“Four O’Clock” (1949) by Sonia H. Greene

His touch was lightest in the stories by Sonia H. Greene, who was later to become his wife; he made some alterations in The Invisible Monster, he made only suggestions for the prose style of Four O’Clock.
—August Derleth, Something About Cats and Other Pieces(1949) vii

Four O’Clock” is the third work of fiction, after “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” (1923) (published in Weird Tales as “The Invisible Monster”) and Alcestis: A Play (1985) attributed to Sonia H. Greene with some input or assistance from H. P. Lovecraft, who she would marry in 1924. Relatively little is known about the genesis of this story, as Lovecraft mentions it only a few times in his letters, except that it was apparently one of three tales that were conceived during a visit by Sonia and Lovecraft to Magnolia, Massachusetts in 1922:

Mme. G. has taken to this sort of composition—has written one & planned two more—& I’m damned if they don’t look like good stuff! The first one, “Four O’Clock”, has some images noxiously Poe-esque—I shall polish it up for use in the U.A. or something else.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 30 Jun 1922, Letters to Alfred Galpin 120

After the repast—a most marvelous meal prepared by Mrs. G. alone since the negress disappointed her & failed to appear—a programme of literary reading & discussion took place. I read my “Doom that Came to Sarnath” & “The Tree”, Belknap read his “Eye Above the Mantel”, Mrs. Green read her “Four O’Clock” & one of the other Magnolia horror-tales not yet revised […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Anne E. P. Gamwell, 9 Sep 1922, Letters from New York 20-21

The story did not see publication during Lovecraft’s lifetime, but in 1946 Sonia (now Sonia H. Davis) came into contact with August Derleth of Arkham House, and after some personal disagreements and correspondence, both “The Invisible Monster” and “Four O’Clock” were published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949), which contained several of Lovecraft’s revision tales; it would subsequently be reprinted in The Horror in the Museum (1970) and other collections of Lovecraft’s revision and ghostwritten tales, despite the relatively slight evidence, as Joshi notes:

In a letter to Winfield Townley Scott (11 December 1948; ms JHL), Sonia H. Davis wrote that this story was written only at HPL’s suggestion. On that basis, I excluded it from the revised Horror in the Museum (1989); but in fact, much of the prose appears to be similar to HPL’s own prose, with some characteristic linguistic and even punctuational usages; so HPL probably did touch up the story somewhat. HPL never mentions the story in any extant correspondence, it was apparently not published in his lifetime. The only basis for the text is its first appearance in 1949.
—S. T. Joshi, Collected Fiction Vol. 4 (Revisions and Collaborations): A Variorum Edition 4.613

The letter mentioned is available online, where Sonia writes:

I have sent to Arkham House snap photo of HPL’s aunts, some post cards, a story revised by HP and a fictitious story I wrote about HP a few months after I met him, but at his request I did not publish it in the Rainbow because, as he told it, it was obviously a description of himself.
—Sonia H. Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 11 Dec 1948

If the “story revised by HP” is “The Horror at Martin’s Beach”/”The Invisible Monster,” then by process of elimination the “fictitious story I wrote about HP” must be “Four O’Clock.” Which perhaps places this story in the same category of “Falco Ossifracus” (1921) by Edith Miniter, closer to affectionate parody than an effort at a weird tale, a literary tweaking of Lovecraft’s nose.

There is something deliciously pulpy about “Four O’Clock.” The tale of supernatural revenge beyond the grave to be visited at the eponymous hour has all of the four-color garish earnestness of a Tale from the Crypt-Keeper. The demons, be they real or hallucinations, have a cartoonish quality. The Poe-esque images that Lovecraft mentioned are laid on with a heavy trowel, so the fine line between pastiche and parody is blurry and indiscernible, but for readers that cackled at old horror comics, it’s hard to suppress a smile.

The major question, as with every story that claims any part of being a Lovecraft “revision,” is how much of it he wrote—or re-wrote, as is often the case. “Four O’Clock” is not easy to categorize in that regard; it has no familiar landmarks of Lovecraft country, no explicit references to the as-yet-mostly-unborn conception of Lovecraft’s Mythos. There are thematic resonances with his work, but how much of these owe themselves to Lovecraft’s imagination or Sonia H. Greene’s is impossible to say. Take for example one of the opening sentences:

The great black silences of night’s depth told me, and a monstrous cricket, chirping with a persistence too hideous to be unmeaning, made it certain. (Variorum 613)

How comparable is this to azif?

[…] azif being the word used by Arabs to designate that nocturnal sound (made by insects) suppos’d to be the howling of daemons.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “History of the Necronomicon”

Similar common images abound, the most obvious of which is perhaps the appearance of what would become one of the more common visual cues in the Mythos:

The four talons, long, thin, and straight, were now seen to be tipped by disgusting, thread-like tentacles, each with a vile intelligence of its own, which groped about incessantly, slowly at first, but gradually increasing in velocity until I was nearly driven mad by the sheer dizziness of their motion. (Variorum 615)

H. P. Lovecraft, of course, neither invented the tentacle in weird fiction nor had any monopoly on the concept; M. R. James used them to good effect in “Count Magnus” (1904), Arthur Machen in “The Novel of the Black Seal” (1895), H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds (1897), etc. The tentacles could be coincidental, or a deliberate reference to something that came up in their correspondence which Sonia incorporated into the story deliberately to invoke Lovecraft as the unnamed protagonist of the story.

We’ll never know.

Serious literary analysis of this story could point to it as a night terror, as a psychological suspense narrative driven by the phantasmagoric imagery, a variation on the theme of the incubus attack with all attendant sublimated psychosexual implications—and there is certainly a case to be made with that. Sonia H. Greene was 39 in 1922, biological clock ticking inevitably toward doom as surely as the fated hour approaches in the story. While such deep reading of the story is possible, maybe valuable to those who enjoy that kind of exercise, the simpler enjoyment of this story might be just in the slightly ridiculous seriousness with which it pursues its premise, like a solid exploitation film.

The plot actually has gross parallels to a tangential Mythos story: “Wentworth’s Day” (1957) by August Derleth features another posthumous appointment being kept. Stylistically the stories are worlds apart, but it’s interesting that Derleth for all his efforts to ground the plot in a suitably realistic milieu doesn’t achieve anything quite like the same effect as in “Four O’Clock”—where the over-the-top visuals of the pending hour, completely surreal in any realistic setting, actually work with the kind of dream-logic that might come from reading too much Poe.

Not that Derleth borrowed anything from Greene or Lovecraft, the idea of the appointment being kept or the curse fulfilled after death is a hoary one. Both stories might be considered a bit hokey, even when they were written, and there’s a campfire tale quality to “Four O’Clock.” It feels like a story to be read not to keep the darkness at bay, but to welcome it home.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

Editor Spotlight: Christine Campbell Thomson

The ‘Not at Night’ series was originally conceived by its editor on the top of a bus one evening when it became clear that a money maker was needed for the firm of Selwyn & Blount, the original publishers. It was one of those brilliant ideas that grew and grew over a period of some ten or eleven years ending with an Omnibus voluming containing the pick of the stories (in the opinion of the editor) and the War, which put a final end to its existence. During its long and honourable life over a quarter of a million copies were sold and the little 2/- volumes were seen in the stalls of almost every railway station, as well as in the bookshops.
—Christine Campbell Thomson, introduction to Not At Night (1960)

During the interwar period, American pulps became increasingly popular, both at home and abroad, being exported to Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries—but were largely seen as disposable fiction. Very few stories in the pulps were republished in anthologies between hardcovers. Which makes Christine Campbell Thomson’s decision in 1925 to edit and publish a collection of horror fiction, much of it culled from the pages of Weird Tales, all the more innovative.

What’s more, the book was a success. Not At Night (1925) reportedly was republished ten times in the next three years, spawned ten direct sequels, at least one imitator, and omnibus, and even had a brief paperback reprint revival in the 1960s and 70s. It was the first hardback publication for the fiction of many Weird Tales writers, and the list of those published includes H. P. Lovecraft and many in his circle of correspondence, notably Frank Belknap Long, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry S. Whitehead, and Seabury Quinn.

Christine Campbell Thomson herself was an author, editor, and literary agent. In 1924 she had been agent to Oscar Cook, and shepherded his memoir Borneo: Steal of Hearts (1924) to great success; they were married a month after its release. Cook held a controlling interest in the publishing firm of Selwyn & Blount, and Thomson began working for that company when she hit on the idea of a cheap collection of horror stories, mostly reprints, aimed at the bustling book-stall market. As she told it:

The first book, Not At Night, came out in October, 1925—a tremendously exciting moment! For the idea had been conceived on the top of a bus (they were open-decked buses in those days) just as it pulled away from its Oxford Circus stop about six o’clock one evening. I was on that bus with the then Director of Selwyn & Blount, Ltd. He was, I remember, lamenting, like every other publisher, that he waned something new and couldn’t find it…and something popular. I believe that he claims the bright moment when Not at Night took birth, but I think that it was a case of two minds on the same thought at the same moment—at any rate, I know that I am responsible for the title of the Series!

The price of the projected book was a matter of fierce argument. Finally we agreed upon two shillings in the belief that Not at Night would be the kind of book that a man would buy at a railway-bookstall, throwing down a single coin and running for his train. We wanted, above all, to produce books that would be within the reach of a very large number of people….

The jacket for this first volume (and for many of the later ones), was designed by that clever advertising-agent, Betty Prentis, who was then working as a freelance artist under her trade-name Eliza Pyke. It was “Eliza”, with her sense of dramatic colour, who contributed not a little toward a “brighter bookstalls” movement!

Publication-day dawned and we held our hands in trepidation. Were we backing a wrong horse? Within a week we knew that we were on the right one. Not At Night was launched and we daringly planned a second and a third to follow in the ensuing years. For originally this was a one-book scheme. The popularity of the Series never waned, and it became a matter of pride to make each subsequent volume equal the quality of the previous one; for—in our modest opinion—it was impossible to surpass it!
—Christine Campbell Thomson, introduction to Not At Night Omnibus (1936) 9-10

Thomson wrote little more than this on the Not At Night series; there are no introductions to the original volumes except the omnibus, and her memoir I Am A Literary Agent (1951) while full of fascinating anecdotes leaves off most of her time as an editor at Selwyn & Blount. However, a fairly extensive correspondence regarding the series (and their appearances therein) survives from Lovecraft and his contemporaries, giving us a unique opportunity to see what they thought about their book appearances, in their own words, and a hint at some of what was happening behind the scenes.

Not At Night (1925) & More Not At Night (1926)

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The first two Not at Night volumes were comprised primarily of stories from Weird Tales in 1925 and 1926—quite literally hot off the press—and include two stories by Lovecraft’s friend and Mythos originator Frank Belknap Long, one by August Derleth, and the first Jules de Grandin episode from Seabury Quinn. Lovecraft was not present in these volumes, and appears to have been generally ignorant of their existence: while popular in the United Kingdom, the books were not imported into the United States in large numbers.

By the way—Long has had two stories of his reprinted from Weird Tales in British anthologies of weird fiction. “Death Waters” appears in “Not At Night”, & “The Sea-Thing” in “More Not At Night”. These collections, he tells me, he’s only just received copies himself) are very good, & I shall ask him for the loan of them.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 11 Mar 1927, Essential Solitude1.74

The two collections containing Long’s tales are called, respectively, “Not At Night” & “More Not At Night”. As soon as I ascertain the publisher I’ll let you know.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 16 Mar 1927, ES1.75

As a mark of their debt to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright, whose agent in London Charles Lovell apparently provided the materials for these and subsequent volumes in the series, Thomson included a dedication in More Not at Night and several subsequent volumes:

The Editor desires to record her acknowledgements to Weird Tales by whose kind permission these stories are reprinted.

You’ll Need A Night Light (1927)

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The third Not At Night volume was the first hardback publication of a Lovecraft Mythos story: “The Horror at Red Hook.” The book also marks the appearance of stories from Thomson (under the name Flavia Richardson) and her husband Oscar Cook; both had submitted and published their work in Weird Tales.

A third pleasure is given me by the news of Red Hook’s anthological reprinting; and I’d like to see the book if you can get me a copy later on. I can most emphatically and advantageously use any royalties, be they ever so humble, which may chance to trickle in from Mr. Lovell. I’ve been meaning to ask Belknap whether he obtained anything for the two stories reprinted in previous issues.—H. P. Lovecraft to Farnsworth Wright, 16 July 1927, Selected Letters 2.155, Lovecraft Annual 8.11

I also learn to my great pleasure that the British “Not at Night” anthology which reprinted two of Belknap’s tales has used one of mine—”Red Hook”—in its third issue. This will bring enough of a royalty to keep me in postage stamps if Belknap’s experience by any criterion.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 26 July 1927, ES1.100

I’ve forgotten the name of the British firm that issues the “Not at Night” anthologies, but Wright could tell you quickly enough. It’s like an average publisher to choose a writer’s worst tale for particular preference. “Red Hook” was so poor that I hesitated in sending it to Wright in the first place, but he thought it was one of my best!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 4 Aug 1927, ES1.101-102

I have never tried my luck with the British market, but I believe I will later take advantage of your much-appreciated suggestion. No—I have patronised no agents in England, although I am told that Weird Tales’s London representative systematically endeavours to re-market all the contents of that dubious congeries of mediocrity on the other side. As a result of this arrangement, they tell me that one of my poorest printed effusions—”The Horror at Red Hook”—is about to be reprinted in the latest number of the Selwyn & Blount “Not At Night” anthology—an institution which has already used two stories by Frank Belknap Long.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Vincent Starrett, 23 Aug 1927, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 523

At Cook’s I saw the two “Not at Night” anthologies, & asked the name of the publishers. It is Selwyn & Blount.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 5 Sep 1927, ES1.104

Anthologies, by the way, are right in my line. I’ve just received the 3d. of the Selwyn & Blount “Not at Night” series with my “Horror at Red Hook” as the last story in the book. This is my first—if not my last—appearance between cloth covers.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 19 Dec 1927, Mysteries of Time & Spirit 195-196, SL2.211

I duly received the Selwyn and Blount anthology which you forwarded. Not half bad! My first appearance between cloth covers, save for prefaces to two books of other people’s poetry which I’ve edited. I note that their illiterate proofreader copies the misprinted punctuation of the Latin quotation—the comma after tali which so lacerated my heart in Weird Tales.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Farnsworth Wright, 22 Dec 1927, SL2.212, LA8.16

You’ll Need A Night Light is not technically Lovecraft’s first appearance in hardcover, since he had previously had material appear in The Poetical Works of Johnathan E. Hoag (1926) and White Fire (1927), both tributes and collections of work of notable amateur journalists, but it was his first fiction appearance in an anthology. While happy to be in the anthology and pleased at the idea of royalties, Lovecraft’s estimation of the book’s literary value was low:

Your inclusion in the last “Not at Night” volume also gave me great pleasure, but you should have been there before with “The Outsider” or one of your more important tales than “The Horror at Red Hook.”
—Donald Wandrei to H. P. Lovecraft, 15 Jan 1928, MTS 199

As for that ‘Not at Night’—that’s a mere lowbrow hash of absolutely no taste or significance. Aesthetically speaking, it doesn’t exist.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 20 Jan 1928, MTS 202

In fact, a hallmark of the Not At Night series under Thomson’s editorship was going for the grue, so to speak. She often picked not the best of the stories from Weird Tales, but some of the most vivid and visceral, such as Eli Colter’s “The Last Horror” and Seabury Quinn’s “The House of Horror”—a far cry from Lovecraft’s preferred aesthetic, but the readers ate it up.

Gruesome Cargoes (1928)

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The third Not At Night volume consisted primarily of original stories and reprints from Hutchinson’s Mystery-Story Magazine and Ghost Stories, rather than reprints from Weird Tales. The volume’s publication apparently coincided, more or less, with some financial difficulty at Selwyn & Blount, which led directly to their acquisition by another British publishing company, Hutchinson’s, with which Oscar Cook had some association (his stories appeared in several of their magazines). Selwyn & Blount were maintained as an imprint or associated company, and continued to produce the Not At Night series.

As for the “Not at Night” anthologies—your mention of the Asbury book coincides with special timeliness with a note just received from Weird Tales’ London agent. Selwyn & Blount have failed, & no royalties can be paid their authors before next March. Another company has taken over the sale of the remaining books—but I fancy that the new “Gruesome Cargoes” will end the series unless this Asbury person finds a way to take over its good-will.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 5 Oct 1928, ES1.160

So “Gruesome Cargoes” isn’t taken from W.T.! Maybe they wouldn’t have failed if they’d stuck to their good old source! Home you get some royalties from the defunct S & B in the end.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 17 Oct 1928, ES1.165

The Asbury that Lovecraft mentions involves the other Not at Night book published in 1928…and one edited by Christine Campbell Thomson or published by Selwyn & Blount.

Not at Night! (1928)

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In 1928, the American publishing firm of Macy-Masius produced their own Not at Night! volume, edited by Herbert Asbury and with contents drawn from the first three books of the British Not at Night series. This volume was apparently unauthorized—whether the publishers knowingly violated copyright law or there was a misunderstanding regarding the license to use certain stories from Weird Tales is not entirely clear, although based on the disclaimer at the front of the book the publishers appear entirely ignorant of the original provenance of the stories in an American pulp magazine:

These storie were originally printed in England in “Weird Tales,” and were selected and arranged for the English edition  by Christine Campbell Thomson.

Asbury’s introduction underlines his basic ignorance of Weird Tales:

And a whole new school of writers has arisen to contribute to the scores of magazines in this country and England which specialize in tales of horror and the occult. All of these periodicals appear to be enormously successful, and their number is rapidly increasing. […] Most of the authors represented in this collection appear to be comparatively unknown in this country (Seabury Quinn is the only one whose work I have ever seen before), and schoalrs and criitics will look in vain for evidences of the skil and erudition displayed by such masters of the horror story as Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Briece and Algernon Blackwood. But any such comparison would be manifestly unfair, for the only criteria appliedi n selecting these tales from the many which were available were shock and gruesomeness.
—Herbert Asbury, introduction to Not at Night! (1928) 10-11

Seabury Quinn was also regularly published in Real Detective, where Asbury likely read him. The book republishes Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook,” in addition to stories from Ausut Derleth and Frank Belknap Long. Its appearance caused consternation, and a legal challenge from Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, and Macy-Massius withdrew it from the stands.

I am indeed interested to hear of the proposed action regarding Not at Night, and certainly hope the matter can be properly straightened out. It seems rather a tangle—I never heard of this Jeffries before; but was told last Septemeber by the agent Lovell that a certain Hutchinson and Co. had bought the edition of the book containing Red Hook, and that I would receive from them such royalties as would have been due me from the late lamented Selwyn and Blount. At that time nothing was said of any other sale of rights, British or American. I fancied that Macy-Masius might have later bought the rights from Hutchinson—and bought the rights to the earlier books from the receiver of the deceased corporation—but in any case it seemed to me that something was due the various authors represented.

As to including me in the list of plaintiffs—I suppose it’s all right so long as there is positively no obligation for expense on my part in case of defeat. My financial stress is such that I am absolutely unable to incur any possible outgo or assessment beyond the barest necessities; so that, unsportsmanlike though it may seem, I cannot afford to gamble on any but a “sure thing”—sure, that is, not to involve loss. If, however, the guarantee of non-assessment on your part is to be taken literally as covering all possible expenses both principal and incidental, I suppose it would be foolish not to stand behind the action and reap whatever royalties might be due me in case of victory. I certainly need all such things that human ingenuity can collect.

Therefore—it being understood that I am in no position to share in the burthens of defeat—you may act for me if you wish; though I doubt if my profits will amount to very much in case of victory. I will pass on your letter to Little Belknap, and fancy he will extend similar authorisation.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Farnsworth Wright, 15 Feb 1929, SL2.260-261, LA8.20

No—I didn’t notice the “Not at Night” advertisement you mention. Bold plagiarism of titles—but I suppose it’s a different anthology. I must look it up.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27 Sep 1928, ES1.159

This will be my second appearance between cloth covers, one other anthology having used a tale of mine a year ago.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 20 Nov 1928, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 22 SL2.253-254

It rather tickled me to see this Herbert Asbury claiming editorship of a book which he merely took as he found it—but maybe he changed the punctuation in some of the tales. I suppose “Red Hook” must be in it—& if so, I am wondering if I ought to get any royalties. Maybe I’ll write the London agent Lovell & see.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, Dec 1928, ES1.169

Residual current honours are purely anthological. I believe I last winter appris’d you, that my “Horror at Red Hook” had been included in the British weird anthology “Not at Night”—published by the now unhappily deceased London firm of Selwyn & Blount. Well, Sir, that anthology has just been republished in America, (Macy-Masius, $2.00) & I am still in it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 13 Dec 1928, LMM 196

This fame business would be rather expensive if it were followed up—O’Brien’s book $2.50, the Asbury “Not at Night” perhaps $2.00, & the O. Henry thing I don’t know how much! […] I’ve just wondered, though, if Long & I oughtn’t to get some royalties from the Asbury affair. We kept our book rights, & Selwyn & Blount have either paid or promised a legitimate return—even posthumously. How come this Asbury person git so much fo’ nuffin’? But then—Gawd knows I’m no business man. Your account of the new “Not at Night” sounds very attractive, & I may yet fall for it. The copies to be autographed have not yet come, but I’m prepared for quick action when they do. Asbury’s geographical mistakes are somewhat amusing. Really, I’ll have to emigrate to the States if there’s a chance of getting well known over there some day! Beastly fog, this—I can hardly see St. Paul’s dome from my Bloomsbury upper window as I write!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 14 Dec 1928, ES1.170

I thought the appearance of the volume delightful, but did not care much for Asbury’s slighting reference to the artistic & scholastic merit of the contents. I was tempted to answer his slur about scholarship by pointing out that his own lordly erudition was not sufficient to detect & delete the mispunctuation which destroys the sense of the quotation from Delrio—the comma after tali which the British anthologist stupidly copied from the original misprint in Weird Tales. I’m not sure yet wether or not I’ll buy the book. Belknap has put in an order for a used copy at the nearest Womrath Library—since they sell books rather cheap after withdrawing them from circulation.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 26 Dec 1928, ES1.173

Yeah—that Asbury goof sure gives a dirty dig in his praefatio. And then, after jeerin’ at bum scholarship, he goes & retains the misprinted punctuation in my Delrio quote!
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 26 Dec 1928, Letters to James F. Morton 171

It was interesting to hear of your new professor’s acquaintance with “Not At Night”—& flattering to learn his opinion of “Red Hook.” I can’t like that yarn at all, myself, & wouldn’t be inclined to place it first even in the Asbury compilation.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 1 Feb 1929, ES1.180

Wright is going to sue Macy-Masius for printing (under an invalid contract) the contents of “Not at Night”, & wants Long & me to let him include us among the complainants. I think I’ll let him—I surely wouldn’t mind some extra royalty!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 15 Feb 1929, ES1.184

As for Wright’s lawsuit—I suppose the rights sold to Selwyn & Blount were British rights only, so that reprinting in the U.S. is illegal. Wright said something about a defective & unauthorised contract which Macy-Masius had made with somebody named Jeffries—but I couldn’t quite get the drift of the situation, since the explanation seemed to assume my possession of information which in truth was never given to me. However, I wish Wright luck, & hope that Belknap & I can get something out of it. Too bad you relinquished all rights on those older tales of yours which are represented.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 25 Feb 1929, ES1.185

By coincidence, I have also just received as a gift a copy of the Asbury “Not at Night” volume.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 20 Aug 1929, ES1.208

Herbert Asbury edited the pirated American “Not at Night” anthology (containing my “Horror at Red Hook”) which Macy-Masius withdrew from the market rather than pay royalty or damages to Weird Tales.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Carl Ferdinand Strauch, 5 Nov 1931, LJVS 302

By Daylight Only (1929)

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Lovecraft’s third anthology appearance was “Pickman’s Model” in By Daylight Only, which also included stories by H. Warner Munn and August Derleth. Whether for cost or other reasons, Thomson had returned to reprinting the “best” (or at least, most grisly) Weird Tales had to offer. It also appears to have used a simplified royalty system, offering a lump sum payment to writers (probably minus an agent fee) rather than residuals based on sales.

Also, [Wright] says that the successors of the late Selwyn & Blount are going to issue another anthology of W.T. stuff, & intend to include “Pickman’s Model.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 2 Aug 1929, ES1.206

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the new Not at Night annual had a goodly quota of your material. I trust that I may get a free copy, as I did of the issue containing “Red Hook”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 13 Aug 1929, ES1.207

Did you get “By Daylight Only” free, or did you have to buy it? I haven’t seen a copy, & had no idea it was out, although Wright lately sent me a cheque for $21.25 to cover “Pickman’s Model.” Where does one get it? I’d sort of like to own it, since I’m represented therein.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 15 Dec 1929, ES1.236

I’d like the address of the place you got “By Daylight Only” if you have it conveniently at hand. I’m too broke to buy it now, ut sooner or later I’d relish its presence on my shelves. […] Too bad you let Wright have all rights on “The Tenant”.  Got $21.50 for the use of “Pickman’s Model”—the arrangement in this case being one outright payment instead of the dribbling royalty system used in connexion with the earlier “Not at Nights”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 22 Dec 1929, ES1.238

If I get “By Daylight Only” it will probably be from the Argus—whose catalogues have reached me regularly for many years. What is their price? Not much more, I imagine, than the ultimate cost when ordered from England, if all the duties & incidentals be counted in. Munn—represented by “the Chain”—tells me he has a copy; & I am asking him whether or not he had to pay for it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27 Dec 1929, ES1.239

I’ll probably purchase “By Daylight Only” from the Argus. It ought to be worth a dollar & a quarter!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, Jan 1930, ES1.243

Switch On The Light! (1931)

SOTL

While at this point considered an “annual” tradition, the tides of publishing mean schedules sometimes slip. So it is that there appears to have been no new Not at Night volume published in 1930, but two volumes in 1931. The first of these, Switch on the Light! includes Lovecraft’s  “The Rats in the Walls” (which had recently been republished in Weird Tales, and led to his correspondence with Robert E. Howard) as well as one of his stories ghost-written for revision client Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, “The Curse of Yig.” August Derleth and Frank Belknap Long are also both present.

Belknap’s Visitor from Egypt & my Rats in the Walls will appear in the new British “Not at Night” anthology.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, Nov 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 269

This reminds me that your “Pacer” will be companioned in the “Not at Night” anthology by Belknap’s “Visitor from Egypt” & my own “Rats in the Walls”—the remuneration for each of which seems to be the same as yours.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 21 Nov 1930, ES1.287

Glad the new “Not at Night” is a decent specimen of its kind. I shall wait till the publishers send me a copy. Shall be very glad to see your “Pacer” between cloth covers, & hope you will be equally well represented in whatever 1931 volume the firm may publish.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 29 May 1931, ES1.344

Why don’t I publish my things in book form? Because no publisher wants to buy them for that purpose! […] Stories of mine in anthologies, aside from “Red Hook” & “Cthulhu”, are “Pickman’s Model” (Not at Night, London 1929) & “The Rats in the Walls” (“ “ 1930).
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 19 Jul 1931, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 21

M R James, the Not at Nights, &c., were all most enthusiastically welcome.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 3 Aug 1931, ES1.354

I’ll wait a while before buying the Rat-containing Not at Night—for it seems to me they did send me a belated copy once. Moreover, they very definitely promised me a copy of the present anthology this spring. Same with Belknap—who has received none so far.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 9 Oct 1931, ES1.393

In 1930 Wright reprinted [“The Rats in the Walls”] in W T, & in 1931 it was included in the British “Not at Night” anthology.
—H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 16 May 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 87

Hope your mother will be able to get you the Not-at-Night with the Rats.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, Sep 1934, LRBO 112

At this point, the success of the Not At Night series may have inspired similar efforts in America—less blatant that Macy-Masius’ volume, but strongly indicative. Weird Tales attempted to publish a reprint anthology of its own, The Moon Terror & Other Stories (1927), which performed poorly, still being advertized for sale into the 1940s. More successful was Beware After Dark (1929), edited by T. Everett Harré and including Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”, and another possible influence is Creeps by Night (1931), edited by Dashiell Hammett and including Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann.” In the 1930s, Weird Tales author E. Hoffmann Price also tried to get a Weird Tales anthology published, without success. Lovecraft mentions these briefly:

I’d be glad enough to have them use “Pickman’s Model”, which was included in the British “Not at Night” series, but has not seen book publication in America.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 12 Sep 1931, A Means to Freedom 1.213

I’m very glad that “Pickman’s Model” has been used in a British publication, and will gladder when it appears in American covers.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Oct 1931, MF1.228, Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard 2.269

My “Call of Cthulhu” is in “Beware After Dark”, edited by T. Everett Harre & published by the Macaulay co., & the British “Not at Night” collections (published annually) usually include me among their contents.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Carl Ferdinand Strauch, 10 Oct 1931, LJVS 299-300

At Dead of Night (1931)

ADON

Nothing by Lovecraft appeared in At Dead of Night, though it had a story (“Passing of a God”) from his friend, correspondent, and collaborator Henry S. Whitehead. Lovecraft and his associates were still struggling to get ahold of copies from the United Kingdom.

At Dead of Night, the new Selwyn & Blount anthology, has come; it has Prince Borgia’s Mass, and is a lousy collection. I was glad to see Passing of a God here, however.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 15 Jan 1932, ES2.442

Thanks for the Not at Night information—my order goes to the Argus in this mail. But I do think Charles Lovell was a damn cheap sport not to send us free copies after promising to do so last May. Is there anything by our gang in the latest number?
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27 Jan 1932, ES2.444

Thus all the “Not at Nights” have done their reprinting directly from W.T. without any notification of the respective authors.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 2 Feb 1932, ES2.447

I am informed by the Argus that the stock of “Switch on the Light” is exhausted, but that a fresh lot is due within a week. Therefore they are retaining my dollar & promising as early delivery as possible. I doubt if I’ll get the current annual.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 2 Feb 1932, ES2.448

The Argus had not yet sent my Not at Night, but I presume they will not forget to do so when it comes in. Sorry you aren’t being paid for your story in the latest issue. I believe you said there is nothing of mine in this one.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 25 Feb 1932, ES2.458

Grim Death (1932)

GD

The eighth entry in the series saw the first hardcover publication of the fiction of Texas pulpster Robert E. Howard, with his Cthulhu Mythos tale “The Black Stone.” Howard had been corresponding with Lovecraft for two years at this point, and had turned his hand to a few pieces of Mythos fiction, but this was the first Mythos story written by someone other than Lovecraft to appear in book form.

No—I fancy the gang aren’t represented at all in the new “Not at Night”, for nobody’s been notified, & cheques usually precede publication.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 28 Oct 1932, ES2.506

Glad the new Not at Night has “The Black Stone”—but it isn’t a volume I’d like to buy.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, Nov 1932, ES2.513

(N. B. I suppose you know that your “Black Stone” is in the new “Not at Night” anthology.)
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 7 Nov 1932, MF1.463

Don’t spare the new “Not at Night” from your library if you have any conceivable use for it—though of course I’ll be glad to have it if it is a question of Grandpa or the ash-dump! When I said I was glad Howard’s story was included, that was from a personal rather than a literary angle—for I concede that our Master of Massacre has by no means escaped from the crude & the conventional, despite the undeniable power of some of his suggestions of a monstrous & unhallowed antiquity.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 12 Nov 1932, ES2.523

I shall greet both of the volumes you mention with profound gratitude. Those “Not at Nights” are surely growing into an ambitious five-foot shelf of mediocrity!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 19 Nov 1932, ES2.525

No, I didn’t know my “Black Stone” had landed in the “Not At Night” anthology.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Dec 1932, MF1.494, CL2.497

By the way, could you give me the address of the “Not at Night” people?
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Dec 1932, MF1.510, CL2.581

So you didn’t know “The Black Stone” had landed in the “Not at Night” anthology? That’s odd, for you ought to have received a small cheque from Charles Lovell (W.T.’s London agent) for the reprint rights. Better ask Wright about it. The address of the “Not at Night” firm is as follows: Selwyn & Blount, Paternoster House, Paternoster Row, London, E.C.4., Eng.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 21 Jan 1933, MF2.524

Glad you liked “The Black Stone.” It appeared in the British Not at Night anthology for 1932. Yes, I wrote the verses attributed to “Justin Geoffrey.” Glad you liked them.
—Robert E. Howard to Emil Petaja, 6 Mar 1935, CL3.304

Lovecraft’s general derision of the contents is not without some justification; most of the contents of the anthologies have rested in obscurity, though some like Howard’s “The Black Stone” and Dr. David H. Keller’s “The Thing in the Cellar” have gone on to be regarded as classics. Issues of payment, notification of authors, and copies of the work continued to plague the Weird Tales gang, for whom anthology appearances were still a novelty.

Keep On The Light (1933)

KOTL

Robert E. Howard returned again for the ninth entry in the Not At Night series, with the Mythos-related story “Worms of the Earth.” This volume also included Clark Ashton Smith’s first anthology appearance with “The Isle of the Torturers” set in Zothique, and Whitehead returned with “The Chadbourne Episode.” Other Weird Tales notables a little outside the Lovecraft circle included in this volume are Hugh B. Cave and Mary Elizabeth Counselman.

Selwyn and Blount, London publishers, who bring out a yearly anthology of weird tales under the title of Not at Night, have recently selected “The Isle of the Torturers” for inclusion in their next collection.
—Clark Ashton Smith to Ray & Margaret St. Clair, 23 May 1933, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 208

[…] a few of my things have been printed in anthologies, hence may be obtainable if one is willing to lay out the price of a whole book for each story. […] “The Rats in the Walls” is in “Switch on the Light” (one of the Selwyn & Blount “Not at Night” series published in London & probably obtainable for a dollar each through the Argus Book Shop of Chicago). Other tales of mine in Selwyn & Blount anthologies are “The Horror at Red Hook” in “You’ll Need a Night Light”, & “Pickman’s Model” in “By Daylight Only”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, 22 April 1933, Letters to Robert Bloch 19

I understand that “Worms of the Earth” is to appear in the “Not at Night” series. I’ve been laying off to get the book that published my “Black Stone” but haven’t ever got around to it.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Sep 1933, MF2.634, CL3.108

I am delighted to hear that “Worms of the Earth” will appear in the new “Not at Night”. With “The Black Stone” last year, you are surely becoming quite a fixture!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 2 Nov 1933, MF2.655

I have, by the way, ordered […] the [Christine Campbell] Thomson anthology, Keep on the Light, which contains my yearn, The Isle of the Torturers. These have not yet arrived.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, Jan 1934, DS 522, SLCAS 247

And by the way—let me congratulate you on the inclusion of “The Isle of the Torturers” in the latest “Not at Night.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 11 Feb 1934, DS 524

I received also the new Not at Night anthology, Keep on the Light, and was struck by the immense superiority of the items taken from Weird tales, over others which, I presume, are by British authors. Howard’s Worms of the earth and Whitehead’s The Chadbourne Episode were the leaders.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, Mar 1934, DS 535, SLCAS 251

I can loan you The Green Round and the new Not at Night, if you have not yet seen them.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, Mar 1934, DS 537

The new Not at Night sounds good, although “The Chadbourne Episode” is by no means good Canevin’s best. I don’t believe I’ll bother you to lend that, since I’ve probably read everything in it that’s any good. Your “Isle of the Torturers” & two-Gun Bob’s “Worms of the Earth” are undoubtedly the headliners.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 9 Mar 1934, DS 538-539

Where do you get your Not at Night anthologies? I’ve been trying to locate a firm that handles them, but without success.
—Robert E. Howard to Clark Ashton Smith, Mar 1934, CL3.199

Glad you’ve got ahead of Lavell with the 1934 Not at Night. Is the 1933 one any good? I believe it contains Klarkash-Ton’s “Isle of the Torturers”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 11 Mar 1934, ES2.626

Thanks very much for the tip on the Argus House. I ordered the Not at Night books I wanted, but they were out of them, and had to send to England for them. I haven’t yet received them.
—Robert E. Howard to Clark Ashton Smith, 21 May 1934, CL3.208

As a note, the list of books in Robert E. Howard’s library at the time of his death does not include any of the Not At Night series, so presumably he was unable to acquire them by mail order.

Terror By Night (1934)

TBN

“The Horror in the Museum” was another of Lovecraft’s revision tales, ghostwritten for Hazel Heald, who became much-lauded in Weird Tales; it became the second of Lovecraft’s revisions to see print in a Not At Night volume. The other notable stories from the Lovecraft circle were Robert E. Howard’s Conan story “Rogues in the House”—the first Conan story to see publication in book form—and August Derleth’s “The Metronome.”

Yes—a number of tales nominally by others have had my hand behind them “the Curse of Yig” was reprinted in the S & B (London) “Not at Night” anthology some years ago, & “The Horror in the Museum” is scheduled for such reprinting this year.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 13 Apr 1934, LFLB 167

And, before I forget to mention it, Wright did another of his right-about-faces and took The Metronome, English rights to which you will remember I previously sold to the Not at Night series.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 15 Jun 1934, ES2.644

I haven’t yet gotten a copy of the Terror by Night, but intend to shortly.
—Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, Oct 1934, CL3.255

I liked your story in the Not at Night Anthology. I was rather surprized that the book didn’t include one of Lovecraft’s stories. Any anthology of weird fiction should include his work
—Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, 11 Dec 1934, CL3.258

Nightmare By Daylight (1936)

NBD

The eleventh and last of the regular series holds nothing of particular interest for fans of the Mythos; like Grusome Cargoes, the contents are mostly original rather than drawn from Weird Tales, with the exception of the reprint of David H. Keller’s “The Dead Woman.”

For example—it develops that he turned down Keller’s splendidly realistic story of insanity, “The Dead Woman”, which Schwartz later used & which has been reprinted in the latest British “Not at Night”.—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 22 Dec 1934, LFLB 242

We can only guess at why Christine Campbell Thomson chose to go with original stories over more Weird Tales reprints once again; the pulp fiction had been a staple of the series since the beginning and probably contributed to its overall success. Even Lovecraft noted that inclusion had almost become a tradition:

I have never made efforts to market stories in England, but several have been reprinted in anthologies there. There is a weird anthology series—”Not at Night”—appearing every year in London, & several of my tales have been in that.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 12 Mar 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore 235

Not At Night Omnibus (1937)

NANO

The end of the Not At Night era came in a massive, somewhat more expensive omnibus edition. Here at last Thomson broke her usual editorial silence to offer an introduction, and our only real insight into her editorial process:

Chosing the stories for this and the previous eleeven volumes had been a fascinating business, and has not dulled one’s appreciation of the macabre. It has been interesting, too, to see how the horror-story, as such, has developed during the last ten years. From the first, I set myself against “literature”; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something more high-brow there was plenty. And I think our courage in meeting a rquirement of this sort has done much towards getting rid of the politely watered “thriller.”

In choosing the stories for the present omnibus I have been guided by three things: first, that no author should be represented more than twice, in fairness to others; seocnd, that the stories should as far as possible be evenly picked from the eleven preceding volumes of the Series, and third, that the type of story should be both mixed and representative.

This Not at Night Omnibus has been a dream of my own for some time now, but it could not come true until there were a certain number of individual volumes from which to select material. I only hope that most readers will like at least a large proportion of what I have chosen, and that no one will imagine that non-inclusion is any disparagement of quality. And if you like this collection and have not yet read the previous volumes, may I add that they are all still availabel for those who want them?
—Christine Campbell Thomson, introduction to Not At Night Omnibus 10

As it happens, Thomson knowingly or unknowingly broke her own rule, because she included three stories by Lovecraft: “Pickman’s Model” under his own name, “The Curse of Yig” as by Zealia Brown Reed, and “The Horror in the Museum” as by Hazel Heald. Lovecraft did not live to enjoy the irony; he died on 15 March 1937, and never saw the book in print.

My “Pickman’s Model” is going to be reprinted again—in England, in a “Not at Night” omnibus.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 4 Dec 1936, LRBO 406

“Pickman’s Model” is to be reprinted again—this time in a “Not at Night Omnibus” to be published in London next spring.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Wilson Shepherd, 15 Dec 1936, LRBO 366

“Pickman’s Model” is to be printed again—this time in a “Not at Night” omnibus to be published in London next spring.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 20 Dec 1936, LFLB 341

One small item to the good (the modest extent of precisely £1 sterling) is the prospective reprinting of “Pickman’s Model” in British “Not at Night Omnibus” to be issued next spring. I hope they use the real text, & not the emasculated one with the “Oh, gracious me!” ending which Wright put over on me in the recent reprint.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 5 Feb 1937, DS 663

Wright informs me that Pickman’s Model is about to be reprinted again—in a Special coronation Omnibus of the Not at Night series. The material reward will be only £1 sterling—but it will gratify me to be connected in any way with the enthronement of our new Sovereign. God Save the King!
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, March 1937, LJFM 400, SL5.432

Christine Campbell Thomson divorced Oscar Cook in 1937 or 1938; whether this is coincidental to the ending of the series or if the end of the personal relationship carried over into the business side of publishing, or if as she maintained the beginning of World War II in 1939 is responsible, is unknowable. All we can say is that while Thomson and Lovecraft’s views on weird fiction were polar opposites, there is no doubt that her inclusion of Lovecraft & other Weird Tales writers in the popular series brought them to the attention of a wider and more appreciative audience:

Osmond Robb writes from Edinburgh, Scotland: “Just a short appreciation of your magazine, which has given me many hours of delightfully blood-curling enjoyment. My first acquaintance with the work of your star authors was made not through the medium of WT itself but via the famous Not at Night series of carefully selected reprint shockers, published in England, many of which were from your magazine. Eli Colter—Seabury Quinn—H. P. Lovecraft—these names were strange to me when I encountered them in the pages of the little red books with the gruesome titles, By Daylight Only, Not at Night, Grim Death, etc. I must confess that then, as now, the unvarnished blood-and-thunders which sought to revolt the reader by nauseous details of putrefaction and slimy abomination left me cold. I wanted other-worldly horror, the chill dread of what may lie beyond the farthest outposts of our cognizance, not the cheap revulsion of rotting cadavers. This eery, authentic thrill the late lamented H. P. L. provided, and the first story I ever read by this exquisite literary craftsman established me as one of his fans. The Horror at Red Hook, with its muttering crones, its vile incantations and its final glimpse into the shadows of an all-too-realistic inferno sent shivers up and down my spine. Since that date I have never been disappointed by a Lovecraft story.
Weird Tales, Nov 1938

Not At Night (1960), More Not At Night (1961), & Still Not At Night (1962)

In the 1960s, the Not at Night series received a brief resurrection in the form of three paperbacks. The contents of the three volumes were not identical to the 1925 and 1926 books of the same title, but selected from the corpus of Not At Night stories, with the addition of brief introductions by Thomson, who wrote:

Now the publishers of Arrow Books have had the brilliant idea of staging a ‘comeback’ with an ‘Arrow’ Not at Night; the stories in it have again been selected by the original editor, Christine Campbell Thomson, and she confidently believes that they will be as popular now as then. It is illuminating and comforting to find how many stories that might have been considered old-fashioned have stood the test of approximately thirty years—more than a generation—and read as well now as they did then. In this collection an attempt has been made to cover all types of the stories used from the scientific experimental to the period ghost and the plain horror.

To re-read the old books has been wonderful and in some ways a sentimental experience akin to having a grandchild and this little volume foes to the world with the belief that the modern readers will be as pleasantly terified as were those who originally bought each issue.
—Christine Campbell Thomson, introduction to Not At Night (1960)

Among the old favorites was “The Curse of Yig” by Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop.

Before the first volume of the Arrow ‘Not at Night’ was officially on sale, the publishers were asking for a second. Nothing, of course, could be a more fiting tribute to the quality of the good old stories nor more pleasing to the editor.

Here, then, is the second collection from those long-ago favourites. Again, it has been a selection that proved difficult owing to the quality and claims of so many rivals. But the choice has been made on a basis of trying to find something for everyone; from the supernatural to the natural; from the realms of the georgeous East to the modest homes of the Middle West of America. Here you have a collection which is honestly believed to be as good as the first one.
—Christine Campbell Thomson, introduction to More Not At Night (1961)

This second volume had nothing by Lovecraft in it, though it included Robert E. Howard’s “Rogues in the House.” Still Not At Night contains no material from Lovecraft. It is tempting to think the reason for the exclusion may have more to do with Arkham House’s effective control of the Lovecraft estate and copyrights and efforts to reprint Lovecraft in paperback than Thomson deciding, after so many years, that she simply didn’t care to reprint any more of his stories.

The series had one final revival, in the form of two reprints under different titles and covers: More Not At Night (1961) was republished as Never At Night (1972), and Still Not At Night (1962) was reprinted as Only By Daylight (1972). Horror writer Ramsey Campbell, who would have been a young teenager when the Arrow reprints first hit the stands, later recalled:

It was in my very early teens, perhaps even earlier, that I bought a paperback of one of Christine Campbell Thomson’s Not at Night anthologies and found it dismally unsatisfactory, not in lacking gruesomeness—the book was a trough of that—but in the utter absence of good prose. I later encountered Thomson’s boast ‘From the first, I set my face against literature’ but believe me, I didn’t need to be told. Her influence was apparent in the increasingly pornographic and decreasingly literate Pan Books of Horror Stories before Steve Jones and David Sutton rescued them from their downward trend, and her regrettable tradition may be seen in a more recent teeming of writers bent on outdoing each other in disgustingness.
Ramsey Campbell and Modern Horror Fiction 4

Which brings us around, finally, to the weird editorial legacy of Christine Campbell Thomson. As an anthologist, there is no doubt that she was a sound businesswoman, and her literary instincts were aimed squarely at providing the public with cheap collections of gore and grue, as affordably as she could. The covers were garish and eye-catching, the construction of the books often relatively shabby, though at least some of the printings used good paper. She constructed a product, and did so as economically as possible; of the 178 stories in the Not At Night series, 100 were reprints from Weird Tales, several were written by Thomson or her husband, and others still were reprints from other pulps or British magazines. Very little of the contents were original, and those were the books which appeared at the two points the series floundered, in 1928 and 1936.

We never get a sense of Thomson’s appreciation or lack thereof for individual writers: she had no direct contact with them and does not appear to have played favorites, publishing women as well as men, tales of supernatural fiction as well as weird terror or science fiction horror. Even the Weird Tales authors never really mention her: their focus is entirely on the product, seeing their name in print in hardcover was a kind of magic, the thing that happened so seldom in the pulps.

Yet as materialistic as Thomson’s aims might have been, and as pointed as her focus was in providing a product for the masses, whatever else she accomplished with the Not At Night series she succeeded in two things: bringing Lovecraft & co. to the attention of a wider audience than Weird Tales, and helping to establish the financial viability of the pulp reprint and standalone horror anthology. While these things might have happened on their own, Thomson’s editorial success at Not At Night is undeniable, if only for the number of “firsts” she managed to publish over those eleven books in the initial series.

 


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Alcestis: A Play (1985) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

Alcestis. As by “Howard phillips Lovecraft and Sonia Haft Greene Lovecraft.”
Madison, WI: Strange Co., 1985. 15 pp.
Facsimile of the A.Ms. of a play (in Sonia Greene’s handwriting) that the editor, R. Alain Everts, maintains was co-written by Lovecraft and Greene. The degree of Lovecraft’s involvement (if any) is, however, undetermined.
—S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Comprehensive Bibliography (2009) 195

Prior to their marriage, Sonia had suggested three ghost story plots, two of which Lovecraft expanded into stories that appeared in WEIRD TALES magazine. The third tale rests unpublished as did this play, written out in longhand by Sonia, sometime in the early 1930’s. This play was written much the same way—Sonia suggested the theme, the classical Greek subject matter delighting Lovecraft, and then Lovecraft set out to flesh out the play. His notes on Greek Mythology and on Alchestis particularly have survived, indicating that as was usual, most of the writing was his alone. despite the handwriting being that of Sonia, who likely was acting as Lovecraft’s scribe, the play bears the mark more of Lovecraft than his wife.
—R. Alain Everts, introduction to Alcestis: A Play (1985)

In the late 1960s R. Alain Everts, using a tape recorder provided by Brown University (where Lovecraft’s papers are archived), conducted a series of interviews with surviving acquaintances of H. P. Lovecraft and his circle, notably including Wilfred Blanch Talman and Sonia Davis, Lovecraft’s former wife. After the conclusion of the interviews, it became clear to Brown University that Everts had also collected materials from some of the interviewees which he did not turn over to the university. The university took out the unusual step of issuing a notice to booksellers against purchasing this material, which began a series of legal suits (see 757 F.2d 124).

In the 1970s, Everts began publishing articles based on his interviews including “Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Sex: or The Sex Life of a Gentleman,” as well as fanzines and chapbooks under the imprint “The Strange Company,” including previously unseen photographs of Lovecraft & co., letters, and Alcestis: A Play (printed in 1975 but not published until 1985). Released in an edition of only 200 copies and never reprinted, it is the rarest and most contentious of Lovecraft’s collaborations.

The play is based on Euripides’ play of the same name, which was available in several translations during Lovecraft’s lifetime, including Coleridge’s 1906 verse translation. The exact translation Howard and Sonia might have been familiar with is unknown, as no such work is listed in Lovecraft’s Library: A Cataloguebut Lovecraft specifically mentions Alcestis among Euripides’ plays in his Collected Essays (2.185). Sonia’s memoir of their marriage, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) likewise emphasizes their appreciation for ancient Greece:

The nomenclature of “Socrates and Xantippe” were originated by me because, as time marched on and our correspondence became more intimate, I weither saw in Howard or endowed him with a Socratic wisdom and genius, so that in a jocular vein I subscribed myself as Xantippe.
—Sonia Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft 27

The is no mention of Alcestis: A Play in the published correspondence of H. P. Lovecraft or his former wife; then again, Lovecraft rarely mentioned his marriage or his wife in his correspondence after their separation, so this does not preclude collaboration. Even after Sonia filed for divorce, they remained on friendly terms and continued to correspond. Lovecraft is known to have visited her in March 1933, as she was recovering from an illness after returning from a trip to Europe (ibid. 22). Possibly this visit allowed for collaboration or at least inspired her to make this holograph manuscript; Sonia herself never alludes to the play in her memoir.

Absent all other evidence the only determination as to whether Lovecraft and Sonia did or did not collaborate on Alcestis: A Play is to look at the text itself.

Prologue

Scene I

Night. A cemetery beside a high-road, under a horned moon. Edge of road with low wall in the foreground. Ground covered with asphodel (the flower of the dead) and studded with tombs and stelae, rises unenvenly to wall of cyclopean masonry overgrown with cins and lichens.

“Cyclopean” is famously one of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives, but otherwise there is no exact bit of language readers can lean on to discern who is the author; it’s a work for stylometrists. If Lovecraft was involved, the play marks a departure from his usual style: being all-dialogue, with a few descriptions of scenes and action.

Worth noting is that despite carrying her name, the character of Alcestis—who sacrificed herself so that her husband might live—never appears in the brief play. It is more accurate to say that Alcestis: A Play is a kind of prologue, setting up the events where Apollo is made the servant of Admetus and the bargain with the Fates, ending on the rather hopeful upbeat that someone will be found willing to die in the king’s place.

Addendum: Since writing this entry, I’ve discovered that a typewritten edition of the play and prologue, probably made in the 1960s, survive at the John Hay Library and can be viewed online for free.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) by Elizabeth Toldridge

He calls us not (as modern craftsmen do)

To scenes attained, where sin’s hideous scars

On human souls are gilded—no—but to

The far, pure, foamy glaxies of stars!

Terrors he brings and things not known before

From lone and dismal haunts of old dead suns.

Yet are our spirits outward-drawn—to soar

Through vastnesses where a stainless Wonder runs!

—”H. P. Lovecraft” by Elizabeth Toldridge, Leaves #1 (Summer 1937)

Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge was a poet, who had worked as a clerk for the U. S. government, and the author of two books of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She sold fiction and poetry, sometimes under her own name and sometimes under the name of her father, Barnet Toldridge. (Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8)

In the letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, Catherine Lucille Moore was sometimes “sister Kate”—and Elizabeth Toldridge was “Aunt Lizzy.” (O Fortunate Floridian! 360) And to Toldridge herself, Lovecraft was “Judge.” Lovecraft had first encountered Toldridge’s verse in 1924 when he was enlisted as a judge for a poetry contest, in which she was an entrant. They finally began a correspondence when Toldridge wrote to Lovecraft about the contest in 1928, and they would continue to write to one another until 1937 and Lovecraft’s death. (LETAR 7) Barlow, who would be named Lovecraft’s literary executor, visited Toldridge in her home in Washington, D.C. in 1934 and 1936, and she received copies of his amateur publications such as the Dragon-Fly.

Lovecraft and Barlow encouraged Toldridge to submit her poetry for publication, and to join the National Amateur Press Association, of which they were both members. Some of her poetry was published in the same amateur journals where Barlow and Lovecraft’s work was published. In 1934, she proposed a collection of poetry for publication to Alfred A. Knopf with the title Winnings, with Lovecraft’s support, but it did not come to fruition.

In late 1936, Barlow commenced gathering material for a new amateur periodical titled Leaves, which consisted of material from Lovecraft and his circle of friends and correspondents: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc. Most of these were incidentals: unsold manuscripts from the pulps, bits of poetry or prose, some of them taken from Lovecraft’s letters. The first issue, published after Lovecraft’s death, contained two poems by Elizabeth Toldridge: “Ephemera” and “H. P. Lovecraft.”

Nothing is known about the writing of “H. P. Lovecraft.” Given the subject and the date of publication, it is likely a memorial piece written in the event of Lovecraft’s death, but it is also possible that Toldridge intended it as a living tribute to her dear friend and correspondent of nine years. She had already written one such work “Divinity,” which she had sent to Lovecraft in 1929. (LETAR 78, 396)

“H. P. Lovecraft” is certainly a tribute to the “cosmic horror” which Lovecraft championed in their letters and his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It also touches on one of the great effects that Toldridge had on Lovecraft:

[…] it is clear that his correspondence with Toldridge strongly influenced his atempts to avoid artificial diction and to cultivate greater expression of imagery and emotion, all while loosening his former draconian strictures of versification.
—S. T. Joshi, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8

While it may be too much to say that without Toldridge there would be no “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet-cycle, it is apparent that the correspondence was a broadening influence for both of them: Lovecraft to focus more on content than form, and Toldridge opened to the world of weird fiction. As an homage, “H. P. Lovecraft” definitely showcases that admiration and appreciation for the weird imagination.

“H. P. Lovecraft” was first published in Leaves #1 (Summer 1937), and republished in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press, 2014).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

Editor Spotlight: Dorothy McIlwraith, Mary Gnaedinger, & Cele Goldsmith Lalli

The impact of female editors of pulp magazines is not always acknowledged, and this is especially true when considering the legacy of H. P. Lovecraft and Mythos fiction. Three of these women stand out: Dorothy McIlwraith, the editor of Weird Tales (1940-1954); Mary Gnaedinger, editor of Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1939-1953); and Cele Goldsmith Lalli, editor of Fantastic (1958-1965). Together, these three women would essentially bridge the gap, accounting for most Mythos magazine fiction that was published between 1940 and 1965.

Dorothy McIlwraith

McIlwraith, Dorothy-Photograph
Dorothy McIlwraith

After his death on 15 March 1937, Lovecraft’s literary legacy continued in Weird Tales, which had been the home to most of his professional fiction and continued to be the mainstay of his most devoted fans. Editor Farnsworth Wright published at least one Lovecraft item, be it a story or verse, in nearly every issue for the next three years—including collaborations with Hazel Heald and Zealia Bishop, stories which Wright had previously rejected, and material from amateur publications.

In late 1938, Weird Tales was sold to William Delaney, owner of Short Stories, Inc. and publisher of the successful Short Stories pulp magazine, which was edited by Dorothy McIlwraith, a Canadian woman of Scottish descent. (What About Dorothy McIlwraith?) The Weird Tales offices were moved to New York City in November of that year, with editor Farnsworth Wright moving his family from Chicago for the transition. Beginning with the December 1938 issue, Weird Tales officially listed its offices in New York. Robert Weinberg claimed that McIlwraith was made associate editor of Weird Tales at this point, but if so she was never listed as such in the magazine itself. (The Weird Tales Story 6)

Farnsworth Wright had been suffering from progressive Parkinson’s disease for years, and the finances for Weird Tales continued to worsen. In part this may have been due to the death of prominent writers like Henry S. Whitehead (1932), Robert E. Howard (1936), and H. P. Lovecraft (1937), but it was also due in part to new competition. While Weird Tales had been the predominant purveyor of fantastic fiction in the pulp field since its inception in 1923, outlasting rivals such as Ghost Stories (1926-1932), Tales of Magic and Mystery (1927-1928), and Strange Tales (1931-1933), but in 1939 several strong competitors emerged, including Strange Stories (1939-1941), Unknown (1939-1943), Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1939-1953), Fantastic Adventures (1939-1953), Planet Stories (1939-1955), and Startling Stories (1939-1955).

Added to these woes, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia began cracking down on nude covers on the newstands; while aimed at the weird terror or “shudder” pulps, the ban also caught Weird Tales, which had been using nudes from Chicago artist Margaret Brundage for the cover, to both fan appreciation and consternation. In addition, Brundage was unable to continue to move to New York and found shipping her delicate pastels economically unfeasible—especially when publisher Bill Delaney cut payment rates for artists. (Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 32) Delany also tried changes to reduce costs and increase sales:

Delaney was more concerned than Henneberger or Cornelius in turning the pulp into a paying, profit-making proposition. His first idea was to increase the page count from 128 to 160 pages. He also used a cheaper quality of paper, making the issue look even thicker than before. The first of these thick issues appeared in February 1939. However, the idea did not catch on and sales dropped steadily. Another of Delaney’s ideas was to cut rates, both to artists and authors. the policy showed as quality quickly dropped. In another effort to boost sales, the size was cut to 128 pages in September 1939 and the price was dropped to 15 cents. The magazine still did not sell. (The Weird Tales Story 6)

In January 1940, Farnsworth Wright left Weird Tales; the magazine by this point had gone to a bimonthly schedule, and his final issue as editor was March of that year. While some sources claim Wright retired or resigned, what few firsthand accounts I’ve come across suggest he was fired:

I am no longer connected with Weird TalesMiss McIlwraith has taken over the editorship. The publisher was losing too heavily, and he figured that the elimination of my salary would help to cut down the deficit.
—Farnsworth Wright to Virgil Finlay, 17 Jan 1940, BOK 66
The magazine has two stories and four poems of mine (accepted by Farnsworth Wright) still unpublished, but I think seriously of withdrawing these, even though I need the money like hell and am not likely to find another market for these particular items. Wright was let out by the publishers to cut down expenses, and W.T. is now being edited by a woman, who also edits Strange Stories. [sic] It is to be hoped that Wright will soon secure another editorship, or perhaps even start a rival magazine himself. In the meanwhile, W.T.‘s best contributors are sticking with him, in the belief that he has had a raw deal.
—Clark Ashton Smith to Margaret St. Clair, 22 Feb 1940, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 328
Wright was cold-bloodedly fired from Weird Tales, because of circulation drop. It’s being carried on by McIlwraith. Wright is hit pretty hard, and our gang has pledged to boycott the mag. If Wright succeeds in getting another publisher interested in backing a new weird mag, we’ll submit only to him. It’s all we can do for one of the best and most liked editors in our field. With Wellman, Juttner, Hamilton, Quinn, Williamson, and others not submitting to Weird, I’m thinking McIlwraith will have to print blank pages.
—Otto Binder to Jack Darrow, 10 Mar 1940, The Thing’s Incredible! The Secret Origin of Weird Tales 219
When he was dismissed because of physical disabilities, many of the younger contributors to W.T. emoted all over the place, and waged a campaign to boycott the magazine. I did not join in this piece of juvenile idiocy. To expect a publisher to retain an editor incapable of coming to work was unrealism beyond the norm, even for youth! Finally, Wright’s successor, Dorothy McIlwraith, certainly was not responsible for his having been relieved of duty.  As editor of Short Stories, her position was far more important than was the editorship of W.T.  All she could gain was extra work, a bonus of headaches. Why penalize her by depriving her of desirable contributors?
None of these loyal nit-wits realize that the publisher scrapped Wright’s long established editorial policies, and told Dorothy what to do, and how to do it. As an employee, she had to obey orders, or, bail out. Anyone who ever knew the magazine business was aware that her leading magazine, Short Stories, was for a readership far more discriminating and mature than that of the W.T. fanciers.
Price, Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others 112
After Wright left WEIRD TALES (banished into outer space, is the way he wrote me about it), I happened to be in New York. I found out that he was living out at Jackson Heights, so I went out to see him, and was always glad I did, for he died only a few weeks later.
Edmond Hamilton, “He That Hath Words,” Deeper Than You Think #2, Jul 1968, 12

Farnsworth Wright died on 12 June 1940. Dorothy McIlwraith took up the editorship with the May 1940 issue of Weird Tales, while simultaneously editing Short Stories, and would remain at the helm of both until Delaney sold the business in 1954. Assisting her was Lamont Buchanan, credited as the associate editor and referred to as the art editor

Having inherited a magazine that was bleeding readers and in the shadow of Wright’s departure, McIlwraith’s tenure in what turned out to be Weird Tales’ waning days is often overlooked or mischaracterized. Robert Weinberg’s comments echo those of many critics down the years:

As an editor, Ms. McIlwraith was a competent craftsman but was not on the same level as Farnsworth Wright. She was a veteran pulp editor and handled the magazine as best she could. Her biggest trouble was that she was not as familiar with weird fiction as her predecessor. Another problem was that her ideas on what Weird Tales should be were somewhat narrower in scope than the beliefs Wright worked by. A publisher who did not let her run the magazine with as free a hand was no help. She did the best she could. (The Weird Tales Story 43)

This is damning with faint praise; while Wright was a personable and intelligent editor, he was also notoriously indecisive, rejecting some of the best work of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and other writers; and Weird Tales under his watch was often characterized by wide variety as Wright chased the readers in the next pulp over with planetary science fiction by Edmond Hamilton & Otis Adelbert Kline, shudder pulps or detective pulps with Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard’s bloody historical adventures, hero pulps with Paul Ernst’s abominable Doctor Satan seriesand that leaves out such ambitious botches as The Moon Terror and Other Stories (1927), Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet Magazine (1930-1934), and Wright’s Shakespeare Library (1935), all of which ultimately failed and drew resources away from Weird Tales.

McIlwraith & Delaney faced a crowded market, and yet they were still paying the lowest rate of the fantasy pulps, 1 cent per word. Changes were made; the popular “Weird Tales Reprint” feature which Wright had instituted was dropped, as were serials, with the magazine promising “All Stories Complete” and “All Stories NewNo Reprints.” McIlwraith convinced several of her most prominent authors at Short Stories to submit material for Weird Tales, including H. Bedford Jones, “The King of the Pulps.”  While she couldn’t always afford to keep them, Weird Tales under McIlwraith’s direction continued to see the talents of some of the greatest artists and writers of the 40s and 50s: Ray Bradbury, Greye Le Spina, Robert Bloch, Margaret St. Clair, Manly Wade Wellman, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Joseph Payne Brennan, Robert Barbour Johnson, Fritz Leiber, Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok, and Kelly Freas, to name a few.

One valid criticism of McIlwraith’s tenure is general failure to engage with writers, artists, or fans on the same level as Wright. Under her editorship, the letter-column “The Eyrie” ceased to be a fan-forum, but a place where authors could expand on the background of their stories. In its place was started “The Weird Tales Club”those who wrote in received a free membership card and had their names and addresses posted and encouraged to write to each other, but there was no apparent effort to generate an official fan club newsletter or real organization. Remembrances of McIlwraith are far fewer and less personal. Still, not all commentary on McIlwraith is negative:

But a magazine can’t survive by living off the past. It has to grow and change, like a living thing. Dorothy McIlwraith’s Weird tales did grow and change in several ways. there was a subtle difference in the whole attitude of the magazine.  […] If anything, the new editor was more artistically minded than her predecessor. the glaringly trashy covers (imitative of the more successful sex and sadism pulps like Terror Tales and Horror Stories) and occasionally godawful formula story, which Wright seemed to regard as good business practices, disappeared.
Darrel Schweitzer, “What About Dorothy McIlwraith?” in WT50: A Tribute to Weird Tales 95
Actually, I think she’s been far too neglected; I can’t dismiss anyone who published Bradbury, Sturgeon, Brown and other top talents. And I think she would have published more, had she been given the budget to compete with Unknown Worlds, F&SF and the other comparable markets. But that lousy 1 cent a wordand sometimes bimonthly publicationinduced few writers to remain in WT once better rates were obtainable elsewhere.
Robert Bloch, The Robert Bloch Companion 33

While McIlwraith courted new and old authors, and was restricted in reprints for the first few years by policy, Lovecraft and the nascent Cthulhu Mythos were far from neglectedbut there was a shortage of material. Lovecraft & Robert E. Howard were dead and with most of their Mythos-fiction already published in Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith largely alienated from fiction-writing (although he would contribute “The Enchantress of Sylaire” (Jul 1941), “The Master of the Crabs” (Mar 1948), and”Morthylla” by Clark Ashton Smith (May 1953)), and after Lovecraft’s death few of his immediate circle such as Frank Belknap Long, Henry Kuttner, or Robert Bloch seemed interested in continuing the shared mythology…but there was August Derleth.

We plan to use “The Sandwin Compact” in the next issue which will be made upthat is, November, published September first
Dorothy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 25 June 1940, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 131

Arkham House, founded by August Derleth & Howard Wandrei after the death of Lovecraft explicitly to publish his fiction, had done just that in 1939 with The Outsider & Othersand much of their catalog for the next ten years would include reprints of stories that had first appeared in Weird Tales, and Arkham House would take out full-page advertisements in the pulp for their books. Derleth, a tireless promoter of Lovecraft’s work and a frequent contributor to the magazine as a writer, began to develop a series of original Mythos fiction in the magazine, beginning with “The Sandwin Compact” (Jan 1941) and “Beyond the Threshold” (Sep 1941).

Derleth had also become the de facto literary executor of Lovecraft’s fiction, and as material was uncovered that had not previously appeared in Weird Tales, sold it to McIlwraith for Weird Tales; this included “The Mound” by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft (Jan 1941), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (May & Jul 1941), “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (Jan 1942, with its classic illustration by Hannes Bok), and “Herbert WestReanimator” by H. P. Lovecraft (May, July, Sep, Nov 1942; Sep, Nov 1943). The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath was also uncovered from Lovecraft’s files during this period, but if Derleth offered it to McIlwraith, she turned it downas she did sword & sorcery fiction like Fritz Leiber’s “Fahfrd & Grey Mouser” series, which appeared in Unknown.

Wartime paper rationing and lackluster sales still hit hard, however. Weird Tales dropped to 112 pages in 1943, and the ban on reprints was dropped; Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets would be reprinted (May 1944; Jan, Sep 1946; Jan, Mar 1947), as well as “The City” (Jul 1950), “The Horror at Red Hook” (Mar 1952), and “Hallowe’en in a Suburb” by H. P. Lovecraft (Sep 1952). Eager for a new attraction, McIlwraith also looked for a series character from a promising regular:

John Thunstone first appeared in 1943, after Wright retired as editor of Weird Tales and was succeeded by Dorothy McIlwraith. She and her associate, Lamont Buchanan, sat down with me for several careful discussions of how Thunstone might act and look, and what he might find to do.
Manly Wade Wellman, foreword to Lonely Vigils xi

Wellman’s occult detective was a success, and he would tip his hat to Lovecraft by including the Necronomicon in the Thunstone story “Letters of Cold Fire” (May 1944)the same issue where the page count was reduced to 96 pagesThe success of Lovecraft’s fiction and Derleth’s pastiches apparently encouraged McIlwraith and Derleth to mine this vein a little deeper:

I too have had a good many letters through the Arkham House clientele, if they respond as well to ‘The Dweller in Darkness’ I’ll no doubt have to do other stories in the same Lovecraftian veinthough I’ll wait for the green light from you before going ahead.”
August Derleth to Dorothy McIlwraith, 3 Feb 1944, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 140

McIlwraith published “The Trail of Cthulhu” (Mar 1944), “The Dweller in Darkness” (Nov 1944), and “The Watcher from the Sky” (Jul 1945). In the September, the world war ended with the use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a science fiction weapon from the pulps becoming a terrible and deadly reality at last.

Derleth also took advantage of the new reprint feature by agenting weird stories from English authors like William Hope Hodgson that Arkham House was publishing. With Derleth’s regular contributions (sometimes published under the pseudonym Stephen Grendon), reprint material he was supplying, and his original Mythos fiction, something had to give…and did:

Sorry I forgot to mention The Lurker on [sic] the Threshold. I just don’t see how we could manage it for Weird. I don’t feel serials in an every other month magazine are good, anyway, and such long installments are out for the duration[because] of the paper restrictions.
Dorothy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 17 Jan 1945, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 191
We have Grendon’s “Mr. George,” “The Hog” by Hodgson as well as several other novelttes from other sources […] and now you send along “Boyd”…Frankly, we like this Cthulhu the least of all our problem material, so it would seem logical to pass it up for Weird Tales
Dorothy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 30 July 1946, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 151

The Lurker at the Threshold was the first of Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” with Lovecraft, although it was written almost entirely by Derleth, based around two brief fragments of Lovecraft; Arkham House later published the book the same year. McIlwraith also rejected the first submission of “The Testament of Claiborne Boyd,” part of the series that Derleth would collect as the stitch-up novel The Trail of Cthulhu. These decisions, as much as anything, show that McIlwraith was not simply cashing in on Lovecraft or the Mythos.

What did happen is that someone not connected with Derleth or Lovecraft tried their hand at pastiche. McIlwraith published C. Hall Thompson‘s “Spawn of the Green Abyss” (Nov 1946) and “The Will of Claude Asher” (Jul 1947), probably seeing them as no more than superior Lovecraft pastiches. Derleth, who felt Lovecraft’s work belonged to Arkham House, responded:

Yes, I know of C. Hall Thompson. He borrowed flagrantly from HPL’s work, and we stopped it by writing to his editors pointing out his invasion of prorpietary interests, though we would probably have given him the green signal to go ahead if he had submitted his work to us first. this he did not do; so it had to stop.
August Derleth to Ramsey Campbell, 6 Aug 1964, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 267-268

No more pastiches were published by Thompson in Weird Tales. Whether she believed Derleth’s legal bluster or simply didn’t wish to alienate such a regular contributor and advertiser is unclear, but there are signs that Weird Tales was still in financial trouble. With the September 1947 issue, WT raised the price from 15 to 20 cents per issue, while retaining the reduced page count. Three more of Derleth’s tales appeared in the following years: “Something in Wood” (Mar 1948), “The Whippoorwills in the Hills” (Sep 1948), and the formerly-rejected “The Testament of Clairborne Boyd” (Mar 1949). With the next issue, May 1949, the price was increased again to 25 cents per issue. He would manage to land more stories: “Something From Out There” (Jan 1951), “The Keeper of the Key” (May 1951), “The Black Island” (Jan 1952), which featured the use of atomic weapons against Cthulhu.

Derleth was the most prominent Mythos writer in Weird Tales during McIlwraith’s editorship, but arguably the best one was Robert Bloch, who published the third in his triptych with Lovecraft, “The Shadow from the Steeple” (Sep 1950), and the highly acclaimed “Notebook Found In A Deserted House” (May 1951). Among the rewrites, McIlwraith chose Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone” (Nov 1953).

In September 1953, adapting to market pressure, Weird Tales became a digest. McIlwraith apparently asked Derleth for more Mythos/Lovecraftian material, probably in a last-ditch effort to spur readership. He responded with “posthumous collaborations” that Derleth had written based on some fragment of Lovecraft’s text or ideas in his commonplace book:

You already have “The Survivor,” which I hope can appear in the July or September issue. Three others are now ready

“Wentworth’s Day,” at 4500 words
“The Gable Window,” at 7500 words
“The Peabody Heritage,” at 7500 words
There will be at least two moreor enough for an entire year of Weird Tales. And we might be able to turn up more thereafter, if the use of them has any noticeable effect on the sales of the magazine.
August Derleth to Dorothy McIlwraith, 24 Feb 1954 A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 211

“The Survivor” appeared in the July 1954 issue, the last of the Derleth Mythos contributions. She wrote to him:

I have here: “The Gable Window,” “The Ancestor,” “Wentworth’s Day,” “The Peabody Heritage,” “Hallowe’en for Mr. Faukner,” also “The Seal of R’lyeh.” It might be that whoever takes over WT might see the value of the Lovecraft tie-in, but I don’t know…
Dororthy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 15 Nov 1954, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 212, 219

Weird Tales folded with the September 1954 issue; both it and Short Stories were sold, and McIlwraith moved on. The various Derleth Mythos stories would see print elsewhere, and be collected and printed in book form. So too, Arkham House would collect and publish many stories and authors from McIlwraith’s period of editorship during the following decades.

We do not have any extensive memoirs from McIlwraith, and most of what she has written about weird fiction are restricted to editorial comments in “The Eyrie”but in 1954 she weighed in on H. P. Lovecraft and Weird Tales:

Alathough the first all-science-fiction magazine did not appear until 1926, Weird Tales magazine with its very first issue inaugerated a policy of devoting some portion of its conctents to science fiction and has continud that policy from March of 1923 to date. There was always some conflict between those readers who wanted more space devoted to straight weird material—i.e., fantasy—as opposed to those who would have preferred additional science fiction. The man who helped reocncile those two elements was H. P. Lovecraft, who in his own popular fashion blended weird and horror elements into a credible sceintific background to come up with a combination which satisfied all readers. Lovecraft influenced a great many of the younger writers […]
Dorothy McIlwraith, Editor’s Choice in Science Fiction 185

She was not wrong, especially on the final point.

In evaluating Dorothy McIlwraith’s role with regard to Lovecraft and the Mythos, it is difficult not to consider the symbiotic role played by Derleth and Arkham House in the pulp’s final 14 years. While many of its stories were selected for reprint in anthologies long before this was the norm for science fiction, Weird Tales never issued a successful anthology of its own materialArkham House largely fulfilled that role during McIlwraith’s time. By the same token, Weird Tales was exactly the market that Arkham House & August Derleth needed. Without McIlwraith, it seems unlikely that Derleth would have written Trail of CthulhuMask of Cthulhu, or many of his posthumous collaborationsand whatever else may be thought of those works, as well as those of Bloch, Wellman, and Thompson, they helped keep the memory of Lovecraft alive for a new generation of readers.

But in this, Dorothy McIlwraith was not alone…

Mary Gnaedinger

MaryGnaedinger
Mary Gnaedinger

The Munsey Company practically invented the pulp magazine, with highly successful titles like Argosy going back to the turn of the century. With this large stock of stories, in 1939 they launched Famous Fantastic Mysteries primarily as a title to reprint them. The editor selected was Mary Gnaedinger, who also edited Fantastic Novels (1940-1941) and A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine (1949-1950).

Gnaedinger and McIlwraith were technically rivals, but since Weird Tales initially offered no reprints and Famous Fantastic Mysteries no original material, they seemed at least at first more complementary than anythingat least to contemporary eyes. FFM, however, paid better, so Gnaedinger was able to snatch away Virgil Finlay, one of the finest artists working in the pulps. She was also much more attentive to the growing science fiction and fantasy fandom, and catered the content of the magazine to the stories they wanted to read, republishing many now-classic works by Robert W. Chambers, A. Merritt, Arthur Machen, Ray Cummings…and even Weird Tales regulars.

Lovecraft however was not initially on the menu; though Gnaedinger managed to reprint “The Colour Out of Space” (Oct 1941), supplemented with the poem “For H. P. Lovecraft” by Robert A. Lowndes. In 1943, Munsey sold Famous Fantastic Mysteries to All-Fiction Field, who retained Gnaedinger as editor and loosened her restrictions, allowing her to publish more original material. (Sisters of Tomorrow 293) Gnaedinger took advantage of this by making arrangements with Arkham House to reprint some of Lovecraft’s fiction, with whom she had some dealings:

The Lurker on [sic] the Threshold is an excellent fantastic story, but I regret to say that we have decided it is too specialized for the ordinary readers who undoubtedly form a large cross-section of our public. A great part of the story is written for the initiated fantasy fan, and cutting would spoil it. Not that I think you would want to see it cut.
Mary Gnaedinger to Derleth, 6 Feb 1945, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 191

Ironically, this was the same general rejection that McIlwraith had given Derleth when he pitched the idea of serializing The Lurker at the Threshold in Weird Tales. However, Gnaedinger was open to reprinting more works, and so in due course Famous Fantastic Mysteries hosted “The Outsider” (Jun 1950), “The Music of Erich Zann” (Mar 1951), and “Pickman’s Model” (Dec 1951), all “Published by permission of Arkham House.”

Fan-scholars and poets like Virginia “Nanek” Anderson also made their appearance in FFM. Two pieces in particular stand out: “Masters of Fantasy: Howard Phillips Lovecraft – The Outsider” (Aug 1947) and “Masters of Fantasy: Arthur Machen: Inspirator of Lovecraft” (Dec 1948); while credited as to Neil Austin, it has been suggested these pieces were actually written by arch-fan Forrest J. Ackermann.

There is a little mystery to the Famous Fantastic Mystery reprints, with the main one being: Why FFM? In 1941, Weird Tales wasn’t publishing reprints, so the reprint of “The Colour Out of Space” isn’t exactly cutting into their market; but in the 1950s it seems unusual that Derleth would offer reprints to FFM when Weird Tales was an open marketunless either McIlwraith had already turned him down, or Gnaedinger offered more money. Either seems a likely possibility, but the details to the deal have not come to light.

Near the end of its run, Gnaedinger also published a few works by Robert E. Howard with connections to the Mythos, notably “Skull-Face” (Dec 1952)whose villain Kathulos was once feverishly debated to have a connection to Cthulhu by the fans of Weird Talesand “Worms of the Earth” (Jun 1953), which appeared in the final issue.

Famous Fantastic Mysteries folded the year before Weird Tales; while it had a good 14-year run, the pulp market was largely collapsing in on itself, competing both with comic books and the burgeoning paperback, which offered another cheap way to reprint fiction. Mary Gnaedinger continued to keep in close touch with fans, and while she may have published little original Mythos fiction, she was a sensitive barometer to what the fans wantedand strove to give it to them. In the early 1950s, that was more Lovecraft.

Cele Goldsmith Lalli

Science fiction magazines weathered the collapse of the pulps a little better than most, and writers that had cut their teeth at Weird Tales and Unknown would go on to find success in the 60s with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, and Analog Science Fiction and Fact (which evolved from Astounding). It was in this Cold War/Space Race atmosphere that Cele Goldsmith (later Cele Goldsmith Lalli) became editor of both Amazing Stories and its companion Fantastic from 1958-1965, when the magazines were sold.

Cele Goldsmith combined the approaches of both McIlwraith and Gnaedinger: she listened to the fans, and she was willing to give them both original fiction and classic reprints. In the May 1960 issue of Fantastic she republished “The Challenge From Beyond” (at least Lovecraft’s portion of it), but paired it with fan-scholar Sam Moskowitz’ essay “A Study in Horror: The Eerie Life of H. P. Lovecraft.” Two years later, she published Derleth’s posthumous collaboration “The Shadow out of Space” (Dec 1962), which had appeared a few years earlier in the Arkham House volume The Survivor and Others (1957), containing Derleth’s posthumous collaborations from Weird Tales.

Finally, in Goldsmith published two new Mythos stories, and from an author that wasn’t part of the Arkham House stablealthough if Derleth ever caused a stink about it like C. Hall Thompson, it has never come to light. The stories were “The Dunstable Horror” (Apr 1964) and “The Crib of Hell” (May 1965), both by “Arthur Pendragon”thought to possibly be the pen-name of well-known Fantastic contributor Arthur Porges. While it was still rare for Mythos fiction to be published outside the aegis of Arkham House, Derleth could not police every magazine forever.

Porges_Irwin_Cele_80bday
Arthur Porges (left) & Cele Goldsmith Lalli (right)

What these three women accomplished, from 1939-1965, was essentially to help keep the Mythos alive in the pulps. Because of the controlling nature that Arkham House had on Lovecraft’s material, and Derleth’s production of additional Mythos material, a sizable amount of what they published came from Derleth or went through himbut not all of it. These editors held authority over their own magazines, and while they might pay Derleth for a story, what they published was ultimately their own decision. What we get, in their magazines, are the inklings of original Mythos material outside of what August Derleth approved to be printed, and this in professional magazines, not just the fanzines.

Maybe that is a small thing, in the great scheme of the universe. None of these editors appear to have been particular devotees of Lovecraft or the Mythos…but neither were they ignorant of it. They knew their business, and Lovecraft and the writers he inspired was a part of that.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“The Man of Stone” (1933) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft

I’ve seen the new Wonder Stories, & agree that it seems to be improving. A revision client of mine has a story in the current issue—”The Man of Stone”—in which you may possibly recognise my prose style.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 12 Sep 1932, O Fortunate Floridian! 37
I note, by the way, a story in the Oct. Wonder Stories (which featured my “God of the Asteroid”) which I am willing to gamble was revised and partly “ghost-written” by H.P. The tale was called “The Man of Stone,” and was signed by one Hazel Heald. It contains reference to Tsathoggua, the Book of EIbon, The Goat with a Thousand Young, etc.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derlth, 24 Dec 1932, Selected Letters 198

In 1932, Hazel Heald was a divorcee, working as a clerk or bookkeeper in Massachusetts. She had some aspirations to be a writer, and had developed a macabre plot:

In this same year, 1932, I formed a little New England writers’ club of my own, and one of my members, a divorcee was very anxious to succeed in the weird writing field. She sent me an original manuscript with a very passable plot, yet told unconvincingly and amatuerishly. I let Lovecraft read it when he next came to our house on Pearl Street, and he agreed that it did have possibilities.

I wrote to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, club-member and told her about H.P.L., adding that he, too, was divorced. Would she like to have him look over her manuscript, “The Man of Stone”? She would! So I gave Lovecraft a note of introduction to Hazel Heald and another chapter in his life was soon taking place.
—Muriel M. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 22-23

Lovecraft’s fiction writing had been dwindling since his collaborations with Zealia Bishop, most of which failed to find publication during his lifetime, although he had just managed to complete “The Dreams in the Witch House.” He was still doing revision work, however, and traveling as best as his means allowed. This included a very exhausting trip to Quebec on a cheap fare:

Early the following Tuesday morning, before I had gone to work, Howard arrived back from Quebec. I have never before nor since seen such a sight. folds of skin hanging froma  skeleton. Eyes sunk in sockets like burnt holes in a blanket. Those delicate, sensitive artist’s hands and fingers nothing but claws. The man was dead except for his nerves, on which he was functioning. that evening he had a dinner appointment in Somerville with a woman for whom he was doing some revision, and he had plans for things he wanted to do during the day.
—W. Paul Cook, “In Memoriam: H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 59

Eddy, who apparently conceived a notion that the two divorcees might kindle a romance, provides a rose-tinted account of the meeting:

She invited him up to her house for Sunday supper and raanged to have everything that H.P.L. liked best on the menu. they ate by candlelight, and he was greatly intrigued by her thoughtfulness in not having a household of people to greet him. He used to say he could think better whn there were not too many people around to disturb his train of thought.

He tactfully explained to Hazel that her story, though very good, really needed a little touching up here and there, something to stir the reader’s imagination. Would she allow him to do it for her? He’d consider it an honor and a privilege. She agreed.
—Muriel Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 23

Hazel Heald and H. P. Lovecraft would go on to collaborate on five stories, beginning with “The Man of Stone” and continuing with “The Horror in the Museum,” “Winged Death,” “Out of the Aeons,” and “The Horror in the Burying-Ground.” Lovecraft’s brief notes in his letters suggest that the latter stories were essentially ghost-written by him, based on a brief outline or idea provided by Heald, exactly as was the case with Zealia Bishop. “The Man of Stone,” however, may have started off as an actual text.

Writing on 30 September 1944 of one such story, “The Man of Stone,” the late Hazel Heald admitted, “Lovecraft helped me on this story as much as on the others, and did actually rewrite paragraphs. He would criticize paragraph after paragraph and pencil remarks beside them, and then make me rewrite them until they pleased him.” But of course Lovecraft did considerably more with Hazel Heald’s later stories: he rewrote them from beginning to end so that they are essentially Lovecraft stories, retaining only the plot or central theme of the author whose by-line appeared over the work—and not even this in every case.
—August Derleth, “Lovecraft’s Revisions” in The Horror in the Museum xi-xii

It was typical of Lovecraft in his collaborations to virtually re-write the prose, so that is not surprising; the Cthulhu Mythos references in the story are certainly his addition, and possibly Mad Dan’s whole diary portion was Lovecraft’s own invention, to explain the mechanism of the action. What then is left of Heald’s original work?

Probably quite a bit, at least in conception, overall plot, and characterization. The love triangle of the woman with an abusive spouse, enamored with a younger artist, is definitely outside of H. P. Lovecraft’s normal milieu. The latter part of the story especially, with Rose Morris’ diary providing her point of view, is very exceptional for any story Lovecraft had a hand in. Even if we can see little Lovecraftian touches (the parallels between Mad Dan’s practicing “all sorts of hellish ceremonies handed down by his mother’s people” and “The Dunwich Horror” are especially acute), it’s rare for any Lovecraftian tale to touch on the personal horror of domestic abuse:

No one will ever know what I went through as his wife. It was not simply common cruelty—though God knows he was cruel enough, and beat me often with a leather whip. It was more—more than anyone in this age can ever understand. He was a monstrous creature, and practiced all sorts of hellish ceremonies handed down by his mother’s people. He tried to make me help in the rites—and I don’t dare even hint what they were. I would not, so he beat me. It would be blasphemy to tell what he tried to make me do. I can say he was a murderer even then, for I know what he sacrificed one night on Thunder Hill. He was surely the Devil’s Kin. I tried four times to run away, but he always caught and beat me. Also, he had a sort of hold over my mind, and even over my father’s mind.
—Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft, “The Man of Stone”

It is worth noting that Lovecraft would never again have quite such a strong female viewpoint in any of his works.

The story in broad strokes has parallels with “The Mask” in Robert W. Chamber’s The King in Yellow, which likewise deals with a lover’s triangle and petrification through some unsubtle alchemy. It is impossible to say if this was intentional, with Chambers’ providing inspiration or simply coincidence. Did Heald come up with the petrification bit? Or was it originally a more conventional sort of poisoning? As no manuscript, notes, or correspondence have come to light from the collaboration, we’ll probably never know for certain.

“The Man of Stone” was published in Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories (Oct 1933), then being edited by David Lasser. There were few “fantastic” pulps on the market, and whether this acceptance was because Weird Tales rejected the story or if Heald submitted it to Wonder Stories first is unclear. Unfortunately, Heald eventually ran into a common problem with many writers: non-payment.

One of my clients is about to write an indignant letter to the Authors’ League concerning his financial shotcomings—though I imagine its effect will be close to zero.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 2 Feb 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 403
Yes—my Gernsback-mulcted client is Mrs. Heald—whose story was nothing extra, although it surely deserved some remuneration.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 10 Feb 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 404

Smith gave Lovecraft the name and address of Ione Weber, a lawyer in New York who made a specialty of suing Gernsback for non-payment; Lovecraft in turn passed the information to Heald, and Weber was apparently successful in getting her client’s money. (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 483) This is perhaps why all of the subsequent Heald-Lovecraft collaborations appeared in Weird Tales. Payment from WT was on publication, which could sometimes be months or years after the story was accepted, and even that often late during the 1930s due to the pressures of the Great Depression, as a consequence, it appears Heald owed Lovecraft some monies for his ghostwriting, which she partially paid off by typing his “The Thing on the Doorstep”:

Meanwhile (my hatred of the typewriter being stronger every day) I have had a delinquent client type the story I wrote last August, & have started the carbon on the rounds of the gang–beginning with Dwyer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 8 Nov 1933, Letters to J. Vernon Shea &c. 175
I lately had a client type my story of last August—”The Thing on the Doorstep” (which isn’t very satisfactory), & am circulating the carbon amongst the gang (you’ll get it in time).
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 13 Nov 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 85

However, the stories were received with some praise by Weird Tales, even if Lovecraft’s friends quite clearly knew he had written most or all of them. One reader wrote in, unaware of the irony:

I cannot say enough in praise of the work of Hazel Heald. She is veritably a female Lovecraft. (Weird Tales Jun 1935)

It is likely that the financial and creative relationship would have gone on longer, but around 1934 Lovecraft ended it, though he and Heald continued to correspond. Lovecraft’s reasoning for this had nothing to do with the content of the writing, but personal and professional reasons:

But it doesn’t pay to do this sort of work—when one could have just as good chances of full pay with a piece nominally as well as actually one’s own. I’ve cut it out now—though the last two reliques of my collaboration (one more Heald opus & the collaboration with Sultan Malik) are yet to be printed.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 9 Mar 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 544
I have refused point-blank to do any more such jobs for Mrs. Heald & old de Castro & others—& recently declined to collaborate with Price on a sequel to the “Gates of the Silver Key”. I simply can’t tackle so much when my time & nervous energy are so limited—& when so many stories of my own are veritably howling to be written.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, Feb/Mar 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 130

This was not the end of Lovecraft’s collaborations, but it was largely the end of his remunerative collaborations; from 1934 on his revisions were often with fans, and on a non-paying basis. Of the stories “howling to be written,” only two were finished: The Shadow Out of Time and “The Haunter of the Dark” before Lovecraft’s death in 1937. Heald would write of Lovecraft in Weird Tales (Jun 1937):

I want to express my sorrow in the passing of H. P. Lovecraft. He was a friend indeed to the struggling author, and many have started to climb the ladder of success with his kind assistance. To us who really knew him it is a sorrow that mere words cannot express. His was the helping hand that started me in the writers’ game and gave me the courage to carry on under the gravest difficulties. But we must try to think that he is “just away” on one of his longest journeys and that some day we will meet him again in the Great Beyond.

Hazel Heald herself would largely drop from view; whether or not she continued to write is unknown, but no more weird or pulp stories are known from her.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft

I shall watch for the tale, “Medusa’s Coil,” you mentioned. Regardless of the author, if you instilled into the tale some of the magic of your own pen, it cannot fail to fascinate the readers.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Sep 1930, A Means to Freedom 2.43

Zealia Margaret Caroline Brown was born in Asheville, NC in 1897; in 1914 she married James Reed, and the couple had a son James. At some point in the 1920s the couple divorced, and Zealia Brown-Reed supported herself and her son in Cleveland, OH by writing articles and short stories, and working as a court reporter while taking correspondence courses from Colombia University and the Home Correspondence School.

In 1927, Zealia wrote to H. P. Lovecraft, inquiring into his revision services, beginning a correspondence that would see Lovecraft ghost-write three stories for her: “The Curse of Yig” (1928), “The Mound” (1929), and “Medusa’s Coil” (1930). In 1930, she would marry D. W. Bishop, and Zealia’s correspondence with Lovecraft appears to taper off, although it continued through at least 1936.

In her memoir “H. P. Lovecraft: A Pupil’s View” (1953), Zealia is appreciative of Lovecraft’s efforts advice and erudition—although in their letters, published in The Spirit of Revision (2015) it is evident that they had very different interests in terms of writing. Zealia’s interest apparently lay in confession pulps and love stories (“light, domestic fiction in the popular vein”); Lovecraft tried and failed to bend her toward weird fiction. The limit of their meeting-of-the-minds in this regard appears to be their collaborations: Zealia would supply the idea for a story, which Lovecraft would flesh out into a detailed synopsis and then write.

Their first such ghostwriting venture, “The Curse of Yig” was a success, and appeared in the Nov 1929 issue of Weird Tales. The next story however, the lengthy novelette “The Mound,” was rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright, and was rejected again after Frank Belknap Long abridged it to make it more salable to the pulp market. While little correspondence regarding the story survives, this also appears to have been the likely fate of “Medusa’s Coil”—which Lovecraft recalls writing in the summer of 1930:

Have no record of dates of “Mound” & “Medusa’s Coil”, but am tolerably certain the former was written in 1929 & the latter in 1930. Indeed, I know the latter date is right, because I did most of the job in Richmond on one of my trips—afternoon after afternoon in Maymont Park. And 1930 was the only time I ever spent a liberal period—nearly a fortnight—in Richmond.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 24 May 1935, O Fortunate Floridian! 276

In November 1930, Lovecraft mentions the rejection of a revision story in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, which is presumably “Medusa’s Coil.” (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 280). It was, from all evidence, their final collaborative effort. Zealia Bishop had a bill for Lovecraft’s revision services which she would pay slowly over the next few years, but the two stories he had ghostwritten for her had not sold.

As for the origins of “Medusa’s Coil”:

[…] I had picked up as an idea from a Negress who did some  housecleaning for me and expaned into a story similar in treatment to my earlier horror tale.
—Zealia Bishop, “H. P. Lovecraft: A Pupil’s View” in Ave Atque Vale 259-260

The letters to and from Lovecraft concerning the tale do not survive, but Lovecraft’s notes for the story do and read in part:

(1.) Son kills wife with hastily seized machete, hacks off hair in savage rage since he dems this the cause of Marsh’s attraction & also connects it with her hideous nature & malignly magical affiliations—also, with her newly discovered racial identity. But the hair* slithers out of the room of its own volition, as if transformed to some monstrous black snake. At this sight son goes half mad. follows hair up to studio, & sees it coil itself around the slowly recovering Marsh. Hair strangles Marsh—the evil voodoo sorceress having recognised M. as an enemy when she saw the manner in which he had painted her. Son, witnessing this, goes wholly mad. Cowers & mutters around room till father enters. Then the shrieking explanation & the struggle. Son either kills himself or is killed by father. (Attempts to kill both father & self because he thinks family blood contaminated by his marriage to negress.) Father left alone with portrait & bodies & hair. Buries victims of tragedy in cellar & settles down to live as hermit. Picture affects him strangely—he cannot break away from it. He fears hair will emerge vampircally from Marsh’s grave. Sophonisba is sullen—continually wanders into cellar & haunts Marsh’s secret grave, though the servants are not supposed to know that anyone has died there. Marsh, son, & wife supposed to have gone away. Later freed hands servants & chauffeur all changed, money wanes, Sophinisba refuses to leave. Finally dies on Marsh’s cellar grave, muttering. […] Symbols of horror—voodoo—black mass—Cthulhu-cult—&c. &c.—Hair alive with independent life—woman revealed as vampire, lamia, &c. &c.—& unmistakably (surprise to reader as in original text) a negress.
—H. P. Lovecraft, notes for “Medusa’s Coil” in Collected Essays 5.243

As with Lovecraft’s previous ghostwriting job for Zealia, “The Mound,” this story contains explicit references to the Mythos that Lovecraft had created in his own fiction, and which he was encouraging writer-friends like Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard to use. It is set in southern Missouri, far away from Lovecraft’s typical haunts, and is a story that deals very directly with the mores regarding interracial sex in Southern culture:

Romantic young devil, too—full of high notions—you’d call ’em Victorian, now—no trouble at all to make him let the nigger wenches alone.
—Bishop & Lovecraft, “Medusa’s Coil”

Shorn of the weird elements, the story boils down to something like a confession-story: the young heir of a Southern plantation goes off to school and returns with a beautiful and vain wife, and a visit by an artist friend sets the stage for what might be a triangular love affair—and it is worth noting what a departure this work was from Lovecraft’s previous fiction. The whole beginning plot is dependant on human relations, love, courtship and marriage; the spectre of infidelity that lingers between Marceline and Marsh is a very human conflict. Even the macabre twist of murder and worries of revenge from beyond the grave is a Poe-esque touch.

Except for the final, culminating revelation.

It would be too hideous if they knew that the one-time heiress of Riverside—the accursed gorgon or lamia whose hateful crinkly coil of serpent-hair must even now be brooding and twining vampirically around an artist’s skeleton in a lime-packed grave beneath a charred foundation—was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe’s most primal grovellers. No wonder she owned a link with that old witch-woman Sophonisba—for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.
—Bishop & Lovecraft, “Medusa’s Coil”

“Medusa’s Coil” is a horror story about a mixed-race woman passing in white society. As a plot germ, that by itself is not particularly novel in American literature: Mark Twain examined the cultural and personal impact of the “one drop rule” directly in his novel Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894); Eli Colter’s more macabre story “The Last Horror” about a genius black surgeon who flayed white captives and grafted their skin over his own was published in the Jan 1927 issue of Weird Tales. 

Passing is very specifically a horror aimed at a white audience—and “Medusa’s Coil” is not a nuanced or clever take on the subject. The very mundanity of the reveal undercuts whatever weird atmosphere that Lovecraft had built up at this point. Terminal revelations in stories like “The Dunwich Horror” (written 1928) and “The Whisperer in Darkness” (written 1930) add depth to the horror, the last little piece of information that casts the events of the story in a terrible new light. In “Medusa’s Coil” the reveal bombs completely…although not for lack of trying.

When “Medusa’s Coil” is read with foreknowledge of the ending, it becomes clear that Lovecraft attempted to build up to Zealia’s revelation throughout the story. Her reluctance to speak of her origins, ties to the French colony of Martinique in the Caribbean, and association with African religion all hint at her secret without revealing it. Yet for all that Marceline Bedard comes onto the stage as a femme fatale and sorceress or priestess, her real motivations appear to be exceptionally mundane, straight out of a Brontë novel: to marry into wealth and settle into life as a gentlewoman.

The problem is, Marceline is not Keziah Mason or Asenath Waite; she might be a strange young woman in the household and the servants don’t like her, but she doesn’t appear to actively do anything malicious, or have any particular nefarious plot or intentions, aside from possibly designs on infidelity. Conventional romanticism is only undercut by recurrent mention of how subtly disturbing or off her appearance is to the older de Russy—at least until the affair bloodily ends, and a supernatural element finally enters the picture. The ending is reminiscent of both The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and “Pickman’s Model” (1927): in art is truth revealed.

We can only guess at how much of the plot was Lovecraft’s own contribution. Certainly he wrote the actual text, and all the references to Cthulhu, Clark Ashton Smith, and Great Zimbabwe in the story are characteristic of his tastes and such matter from his letters. It could well be that the bulk of the macabre elements of the plot were his conception…and whether or not it was contained in Zealia’s initial idea, the final execution is purely Lovecraft’s prose.

There is, at this late date, no point in assigning fault. Zealia apparently suggested an idea starkly mundane and rooted in cultural fears of miscegenation, Lovecraft apparently was willing to pick up that idea and try to write to it. Neither, apparently, was conscious enough of the realities to consider the story from Marceline’s point of view—or perhaps Lovecraft’s efforts to build her up as a genuine supernatural threat simply fall apart when cosmic horror is married so directly, and effectively dependent upon, racial discrimination…and it is worse, in hindsight, when seeing de Russy’s response:

“‘She thought we couldn’t see through—that the false front would hold till we had bartered away our immortal souls. And she was half right—she’d have got me in the end. She was only—waiting. But Frank—good old Frank—was too much for her. He knew what it all meant, and painted it. I don’t wonder she shrieked and ran off when she saw it. It wasn’t quite done, but God knows enough was there.

“‘Then I knew I’d got to kill her—kill her, and everything connected with her. It was a taint that wholesome human blood couldn’t bear. There was something else, too—but you’ll never know that if you burn the picture without looking.
—Bishop & Lovecraft, “Medusa’s Coil”

The straight reading of this is that there was something more to the revelation than just Marceline being mixed-race; that perhaps is the “something else, too” Denis de Russy refers too. But knowing the end, it’s impossible to draw a clear distinction from where Marceline’s connection to the Mythos ends and the racial discrimination begins.

Lovecraft himself apparently didn’t think much of the result, although the typescript was shared with his young friend and correspondent R. H. Barlow, who was a collector of pulp manuscripts:

Do you suppose Mr. Barlow would be interested in reading Medusa’s Coil?
—Zealia Bishop to H. P. Lovecraft, 26 May 1934, The Spirit of Revision 177

Of course, “Medusa’s Coil” is a matter wholly separate from “The Mound”. It isn’t much of a story anyhow. If I were you I’d read it & send it back to Mrs. B. for the present, so that she can experiment with it as she likes. If she places it, well & good. You can get whatever it appears in. If she doesn’t, you can renew negotiations for the MS.—which she’d probably sell at a reasonable figure….although I wouldn’t give a dime for it myself. As you know, it isn’t a first draught or anything with any associational value.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 26 Jun 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 143

“Medusa’s Coil” was not published during Lovecraft’s lifetime. After his death, Farnsworth Wright made an effort to publish stories and pieces from Lovecraft—even collaborations and ghostwritten works—and in 1939 finally paid Zealia Bishop $120 for the privilege. However, the story that was published was not as Lovecraft had written it.

No wonder she owned a link with the old witch-woman Sophonisba—for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a loathsome, bestial thing, and her forebears had come from Africa.
H. P. Lovecraft Collected Fiction A Variorum Edition Vol. 4: Revisions and Collaborations 298

The original manuscript of “Medusa’s Coil” is not extant. The surviving typed manuscript shows evidence of two different hands (presumably Frank Belknap Long and R. H. Barlow), with pencil edits by August Derleth dating to 1937—including the final line of the story. Bishop & Lovecraft’s original ending would not be read by the public until 1989, when the text restored by S. T. Joshi was published in the revised The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions.

It is an interesting edit, if for no other reason than all the other references to race in the story—more than is typical for Lovecraft, including some fairly lengthy bits of what are supposed to be African-American dialect by Sophonisba, and instances of the N-word—are all left intact. At best, it can be seen as a half-hearted amelioration, an effort to retain the substance of the terminal revelation without the specificity. Maybe that level of overt racial discrimination was too much, even by 1939 standards…or maybe it was simply an unsatisfying ending to a weird tale. We will never know.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

 

 

“The Horror at Martin’s Beach” (1923) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

While visiting Magnolia, that beautiful, exclusive summer resort on the north shoe of Massachusetts, we often walked to Gloucester, which was a distance of about four miles. On our way we passed a beautiful esplanade. One evening while walking along this esplanade, the full moon reflecting its light in the water, a peculiar and unusual noise heard at a distance as of a loud snorting and grunting, the shimmering light forming a moon-path on the water, the round tops of the submerged piles in the water exposed a rope connecting them like a huge spider’s guy-line, gave the vivid imagination full play for an interesting weird tale. “Oh, Howard,” I exclaimed, “here you have the setting for a real strange and mysterious story.” Said he, “Go ahead, and write it.” “Oh, no, I couldn’t do it justice,” I answered. “Try it. Tell me what the scene pictures to your imagination.” And as we walked along we neared the edge of the water. Here I described my interpretation of the scene and the noises. His encouragement was so enthusiastic and sincere that when we parted for the night, i sat up and wrote the general outline which he later revised and edited. His continued enthusiasm the next day was so genuine and sincere that in appreciation I surprised and shocked him right then and there by kissing him. He was so flustered that he blushed, then he turned pale. When I chaffed him about it he said he had not been kissed since he was a very small child and that he was never kissed by any woman, not even by his mother or aunts, since he grew to manhood, and that he would probably never be kissed again. (But I fooled him.)
—Sonia H. Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft 19

Born Sonia Haft Shafirkin to a Jewish family in the Russian Empire (modern Ukraine), by the time that Lovecraft and Sonia met she had been living in the United States some 20 years, had married and outlived her first husband (Samuel Greene), and had an adult daughter (Carol Weld) from that union. Sonia was a successful, highly-paid milliner in New York City, and had gotten involved in amateur journalism. Lovecraft met her at an amateur press convention in 1921, shortly after the death of Lovecraft’s mother, and the two began a correspondence which turned into a rather surprising courtship-in-letters. They would marry quickly and unexpected in 1924…but before that, they wrote this tale together.

There is no reason to doubt Sonia’s own account of the story’s genesis, and this makes it difficult to distinguish her prose from Lovecraft’s. The issue is exacerbated because little of Sonia’s own work has been published—her other two known fictional efforts, “Four O’Clock” and the play Alcestis both show evidence of being “touched up” by Lovecraft.  Joshi in volume 4 of the variorum edition of the collected fiction of H. P. Lovecraft notes: “One supposes that Lovecraft retained a certain amount of prose by Greene.” Her image of the moon-path in particular is a recurring motif:

It was in the twilight, when grey sea-birds hovered low near the shore and a rising moon began to make a glittering path across the waters. The scene is important to remember, for every impression counts. On the beach were several strollers and a few late bathers; stragglers from the distant cottage colony that rose modestly on a green hill to the north, or from the adjacent cliff-perched Inn whose imposing towers proclaimed its allegiance to wealth and grandeur. […]

Minutes seemed lengthened into hours, and still that human snake of swaying torsos was seen above the fast rising tide. rhythmically it undulated; slowly, horribly, with the seal of doom upon it. thicker clouds now passed over the ascending moon, and the glittering path on the waters faded nearly out. […]

There was no line of bobbing heads now. The waters were calm and deserted, and broken only by the fading ripples of what seemed to be a whirlpool far out in the path of the moonlight whence the strange cry had first come. But as I looked along that treacherous lane of silvery sheen, with fancy fevered and senses overwrought, there trickled upon my ears from some abysmal sunken waste the faint and sinister echoes of a laugh.
—Greene & Lovecraft, “The Horror at Martin’s Beach”

It is an atypical tale by Lovecraft’s standards, much like his earlier collaborations “Poetry and the Gods” (1920) with Anna Helen Crofts and “The Crawling Chaos” (1921) with Winifred Virginia Jackson. Like those stories, it is not a Mythos tale per se, although it seems likely that Lovecraft is behind the name of “Capt. Orne,” which is the name of one of the families he would later associate with Innsmouth. It has more plot than those dream-tales. The mocking laughter at the end and the strange inevitability of the victims’ doom is closer to a conte cruel than Lovecraft’s other efforts…but the real difference between this collaboration and previous efforts is its fate.

The story was written in 1922, during or shortly after the Magnolia visit (26 June – 5 July); and Lovecraft wrote on 11 Sep 1922 that at a party attended by several amateur journalism folk:

I read my “Doom that Came to Sarnath” & “The Tree”, Belknap read his “Eye Above the Mantel”, Mrs. Greene read her “Four o’Clock” & one of the other Magnolia horror-tales not yet revised […]
—Lovecraft to Anne Gamwell, 9-11 Sep 1922, Letters from New York 21

However, in March 1923 a new pulp appeared on the stands: Weird Tales. Lovecraft successfully submitted several stories to this magazine—including “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” which appeared as “The Invisible Monster” by Sonia H. Greene in the November 1923 issue. This was, then, Lovecraft’s first commercial collaboration, and Sonia’s only professional publication during Lovecraft’s lifetime.

This is one of the stories that marked the transition from Lovecraft as an amateur to a professional writer—and perhaps it is notable that it was Sonia who partnered with him in that, as she did later in their brief marriage. She was in many ways the catalyst for bringing Lovecraft to New York, which while painful for the man from Providence also led to much personal growth.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“The Crawling Chaos” (1921) by Winifred Virginia Jackson & H. P. Lovecraft

The “Elizabeth Berkeley” of “The Crawling Chaos” is Winifred Virginia Jackson—a now fairly well known poetess, formerly active in amateur journalism. The sketch (it is scarcely a story) is based on a curious dream of hers—which formed a sort of continuation of a previous dream of my own which I had related to her. I put the whole business in my own language, & tacked on a sort of aftermath in the Dunsanian style—for the thing dates from my most intensively Dunsanian period. It was my second & final collaboration with Miss Jackson, the first being “The Green Meadow” […] I took the title C. C. from my Nyarlathotep sketch (now repudiated) because I liked the sound of it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 1 Dec 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 191

In 1919, Winifred Virginia Jordan was an active contributor to amateur journalism, and had been associated with H. P. Lovecraft in that regard for some years. Lovecraft published her “Song of the North Wind” in his own amateur journal, The Conservative (vol. I, no. IV, 1916); Lovecraft may have had a hand in revising this and subsequent poems of hers in his amateur journals.

In the following years they would share editorial duties on amateur journals, and struck up a correspondence which led to two prose collaborations: “The Green Meadow” (eventually published in The Vagrant, Spring 1927) and “The Crawling Chaos” (The United Co-operative, Apr 1921). Both used pseudonyms for these stories: Jordan was “Elizabeth Berkeley,” and Lovecraft was “Lewis Theobald, Jun.” Despite the pseudonyms, the writing team was apparently an open secret; Lovecraft’s friend Alfred Galpin identified them by name in a review of the story in The United Amateur (Nov 1921).

Lovecraft describes the process of their collaboration in some subsequent letters:

Of genuinely fantastic dreamers, I have discovered but one in amateurdom—this being Mrs. Jordan. I will enclose—subject to return—an account of a Jordanian dream which occurred in the early part of 1919, & which I am some time going to weave into a horror story, as I did “The Green Meadow” dream of earlier state, which I think I once hewed you. That earlier dream was exceptionally singular in that I had one exactly like it myself—save that mind did not extend o far. It was only when I had relate my dream that Miss J. related the similar & more fully developed one. […] The more recent Jordan dream is very vivid, but peters out miserably. I shall use it only as far the point where the narrator reaches the palm tree. The narrator will be a neurotic youth of the Roderick Usher type.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 5 Nov 1920, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 190

The enclosed fragment of a Jacksonian letter, written late 1918 or early 1919, is the nucleus of the story. As you will perceive, the whole bizarre setting comes from an actual dream of the poetess whilst in the clutches of influenza. This element of illness may account for much of the fantastic colouring, though in actual truth no drug was administered. I have, I think, mentioned before, that the genius of W> V. J. can produce hideous conceptions far outdoing any of mine, and remaining ineffective solely because of their creator’s singular helplessness in prose.  […] I kept this dream outline a long time without utilising it—for being basically egotistical, I put mine own work first. Finally, last December, the authoress became impatient about it, so I threw the story together in a hurry. The colouring impressed me as opiate, so I supplies the dopy prologue. Then in analysing the nature of the dream, I found that the dominant points were a hellish pounding and an encroachment of the sea upon the land. Using these two latter “starters”, the denouement was fairly inevitable tome; so that although everything after the ninth line of page five in the printed version is my own, it is only broadly so; the impulse having been supplied by the original data. When I sent the finished story to W. V. J. I was amused by her idea that I must have actually seen the same supernal sights that he saw in the dream. Her overpowering imagination, conjoined to very scanty scientific attainments, makes her vaguely credulous of the supernatural and she cannot get rid of the notion that there may be an actual region o dream and vision which can be independently and objectively seen by different individuals. In this case she declared that I had described details of the strange interior, and of the architecture of the dream-house, which she had plainly noticed but had not described to me; which to her is proof that a common dream experience must underlie the work of both collaborators. […] frankly, I didn’t think the “Crawling Chaos” would going to make such a hit that anyone would notice it.
H. P. Lovecraft to the Gallomo, 12 Sep 1921, Letters to Alfred Galpin 108-109

The influenza epidemic swept the globe during the final stages of the First World War in 1918. In 1919 Winifred was living and working in Boston, putting out her own amateur journal The Bonnet. She had married an African-American man, Horace Jordan, and in 1919 they were divorced; she resumed her maiden name of Jackson around 1920 or 1921. It was in this fertile period, 1919-1920, that Lovecraft and Jackson shared their dreams and wrote their collaborationLovecraft borrowing the title from his prose poem “Nyarlathotep” (The United Amateur, Nov 1920) which begins “Nyarlathotep…the crawling chaos…”

Wetzel & Everts claim in Winifred Virginia Jackson—Lovecraft’s Lost Romance that at this point Winifred V. Jackson was at this point already the mistress of the famed Black editor and poet William Stanley Braithwaite, they were involved in the foundation of the B. J. Brimmer Publishing Co. in 1921, which Jackson would buy when it went bankrupt in 1927. Braithwaite would publish several of her poems in his anthologies, which would also include poets from the Harlem Renaissance. Lovecraft himself was not aware of Braithwaite’s race until 1918, when he wrote a vituperative, racist diatribe upon discovering the influential editor Braithwaite had been awarded the Springarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (LRK 137-138). Despite this, in 1930 Lovecraft and Braithwaite apparently had a brief correspondence. Jackson herself may have been of mixed race; she was included among “Colored” writers in William Henry Harrison, Jr.’s Colored Girls and Boys’ Inspiring United States History, and A Heart to Heart Talk About White Folks (1921).

It is an open question as to whether Lovecraft was aware of the details of Winifred’s personal life; he makes no mention of her marriage or any association with Braithwaite in his published letters or his essays “Winifred Virginia Jordan: Associate Editor” (Silver Clarion Apr 1919) or “Winifred Virginia Jackson: A ‘Different’ Poetess” (The United Amateur Mar 1921), although he was, from the name change, apparently very aware of her change in marital status.

Everts & Wetzel record the rumor that Jackson and Lovecraft were romantically inclined, or at least perceived to be by amateur journalism, but there is little evidence for this. The collaborators continued to associate until 1921, after which they appear to have gone their separate ways, Lovecraft rarely referring to Jackson in his subsequent letters—according to Everts, Lovecraft’s wife Sonia H. Greene would claim in a 1967 interview that: “I stole HPL away from Winifred Jackson.”

The speculation of an personal relationship between Jackson and Lovecraft, especially given his racism and her interracial marriage, tends to draw attention away from “The Crawling Chaos” as a work of fiction. Despite the title, the work does not feature Nyarlathotep and has no direct connection to Lovecraft’s Mythos. In the context that Lovecraft gives for Jackson’s portion it is possible to see there an echo of the plague that swept the world in 1918:

Of the future I had no heed; to escape, whether by cure, unconsciousness, or death, was all that concerned me. I was partly delirious, so that it is hard to place the exact moment of transition, but I think the effect must have begun shortly before the pounding ceased to be painful. […] The sensation of falling, curiously dissociated from the idea of gravity or direction, was paramount; though there was a subsidiary impression of unseen throngs in incalculable profusion, throngs of infinitely diverse nature, but all more or less related to me. Sometimes it seemed less as though I were falling, than as though the universe or the ages were falling past me. Suddenly my pain ceased, and I began to associate the pounding with an external rather than internal force. The falling had ceased also, giving place to a sensation of uneasy, temporary rest; and when I listened closely, I fancied the pounding was that of the vast, inscrutable sea as its sinister, colossal breakers lacerated some desolate shore after a storm of titanic magnitude. Then I opened my eyes.

If there is an image from the dream-portion that stands out, however, it is this:

Almost at the limit of vision was a colossal palm tree which seemed to fascinate and beckon me.

Palm trees are not normal for Massachusetts. It is an artifact of the exotic and unreal, intruding on the familiar. The palm tree, as much as anything, says that the narrator is in a different place from the one they know. It is the kind of image that might occur in a fever dream, the out-of-place element excepted through dream-logic.

The origin of the story in a dream echoed Lovecraft’s other collaboration from this period, “Poetry and the Gods” (1920) with Anna Helen Crofts, and several of Lovecraft’s own tales that had their origins in dreams and nightmares; they parallel his fascination with Dunsany’s dreamland in “Idle Days on the Yann.” It was a period when Lovecraft, in the throes of amateur journalism, was sharing his dreams with others and putting them into proseand Winifred Virginia Jackson was one of those who shared their dreams with Lovecraft.

After her association with Lovecraft ended in 1921, Jackson continued to pursue her own writing and publishing, although this resulted in only two books: Backwoods; Maine Narratives, with Lyrics (1927) and Selected Poems (1944).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Poetry and the Gods” (1920) by Anna Helen Crofts & H. P. Lovecraft

Moon over Japan,
White butterfly moon!
Where the heavy-lidded Buddhas dream
To the sound of the cuckoo’s call. . . .
The white wings of moon-butterflies
Flicker down the streets of the city,
Blushing into silence the useless wicks of round lanterns in the hands of girls.
—Anna Helen Crofts & H. P. Lovecraft, “Poetry & the Gods” (1920)

“Poetry and the Gods” was first published in the United Amateur (Sep 1920). It is a collaborative effort between Anna Helen Crofts and  H. P. Lovecraft (who used the pen-name H. Paget-Lowe). Crofts and Lovecraft were both members and officials of the United Amateur Press Association, which set the stage for their collaboration. Little else is known about the creative affair, however: there are no references to “Poetry and the Gods” or Crofts in any of Lovecraft’s published correspondence; it is included on none of his own lists of his fiction, and was discovered and published by Lovecraft scholar George T. Wetzel in the 1950; in his Collected Essays, Lovecraft mentions Crofts only once, in the editorial “News Notes” (July 1921) (CE1.293):

Miss Anna H. Crofts is taking a summer course at Columbia University, where she is delving deeply into the technical secrets of pedagogy.

Anastasia Helen Crofts was a public school teacher for most of her life, retiring from teaching in 1942; according to “Anna Helen Crofts—The Rest of the Story” she married Joseph B. McCuen and passed away in Williamstown in 1975. “Poetry and the Gods” and another story, “Life” (United Amateur Jun 1921) are her only known published fiction.

The exact contribution of the co-authors to the final product is likewise a matter of speculation, as no manuscript or drafts survive. S. T. Joshi & David E. Schultz in An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (209) once conjectured:

Probably the impetus of the story came from Crofts; she may also have written the tidbit of free verse in the story, since HPL despised free verse […] The prose of the rest of the story appears to be HPL’s.

Ken W. Faig, Jr. in “The Strange Story of “Poetry and the Gods'” (PDF) however discovered that the free verse was borrowed from “Sky Lotus” by Elizabeth J. Coatsworth, published in the July 1919 issue of Asia. In Faig’s estimation:

If his coauthoress Miss Crofts was responsible for the initial draft of their collaboration, I suspect that the introductory paragraphs concluding with the citation of the enchanting blank verse are most of what remains of her work. Perhaps the basic idea of the six divine bards encountered in Marcia’s dream and the ending scene with Marcia admiring the work of the latest messenger-poet sent by the Gods were also Crofts’─she may also have chosen the quotations from Shakespeare, Milton and Keats. But the richness of classical reference which one finds in the dream sequence certainly owes much to Lovecraft’s collaboration.

Whatever the exact contributions by the respective authors, there is no question that for Lovecraft this was a very unusual story. In the 1919-1920 period he was writing stories like “The Doom that Came to Sarnath,” “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” “The Street,” “The Terrible Old Man,” “The Cats of Ulthar,” and “The Tree”—most scholars find it difficult to believe that Lovecraft wrote:

Attired simply, in a low-cut evening dress of black, she appeared outwardly a typical product of modern civilisation; but tonight she felt the immeasurable gulf that separated her soul from all her prosaic surroundings.

Given that Lovecraft is not known elsewhere to describe décolletage, this may be a fair assessment, albeit a superficial one. Certainly the choice of a female protagonist is unusual for Lovecraft, although he would do so again in other stories written in collaboration with female friends and clients, such as “The Curse of Yig” and “The Horror in the Burying-Ground.” Much of the mood and ideas expressed in the later part of the piece echo elements of Lovecraft’s own personal philosophy and which echo somewhat his more famous conceptions:

In thy yearning has thou divined what no mortal else, saving only a few whom the world rejects, remembereth: that the Gods were never dead, but only sleeping the sleep and dreaming the dreams of Gods in lotos-filled Hesperian gardens beyond the golden sunset.

This is reminiscent both of Cthulhu (“In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” /“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.”) and a possible inspiration from reading Lord Dunsany. Yet is it not also appropriate for a young schoolteacher, whose only escape some days from prosaic life might be to dip into Milton and Keats, to dream of old gods and lose herself for a time in poetry? Lovecraft, it appears, could certainly relate to that.

Of their “hidden collaborator” Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth, not much needs be said; the striking imagery of her poetry certainly helps set the tone of the story. The general surmise among scholars is that if the free verse was part of Crofts contribution, so too was her failure to properly cite Coatsworth. Whether Lovecraft ever caught the uncredited quotation is, like much of the story, unknown. Certainly, it is interesting to think that Coatsworth, who is best known for his series of children’s books, inadvertently shared a collaboration with Lovecraft.

“Poetry and the Gods” was not the first time a woman writer would collaborate with Lovecraft, nor the last. It was the first of such collaborative efforts that was published, and in many ways it sets the stage for Lovecraft’s future collaborations, where the exact details of contribution are unknown, and the only thing sure is that on this one, Lovecraft did not go it alone.


Thanks and appreciation to Dave Goudsward for his help with this article.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).